You’d probably never expect a ladybug to be compared to our favorite time machine, but amazingly, the tiny creatures have one particular thing in common with the Doc’s Delorean: gull-wing doors.
Though you’re more likely to spot one crawling unassumingly on a flower, the ground, or your arm (seriously, how do those stealth-ninjas always end up on us?), beneath that spotted exterior, ladybugs are packing a serious flight-mode arsenal. This all has to do with the fact that—despite their common name—ladybugs are actually beetles (family Coccinellidae).
If you’re a ground-dwelling beetle whose only method of escape is to head for the skies, damaged wings could make for a quick death. So over time, the winged-beetles developed elytra, the hardened, protective casings you see above. When it’s time to make a quick getaway, the elytra pop open, allowing the massive hind-wings to shoot out with spring-loaded speed.
Ladybugs are capable fliers on their own, but add wind to the mix and these tiny beetles can cruise like nobody’s business. In fact, using radar, scientists have found them as high as 3,608 ft (1,100 meters) and clocking speeds of up to 37 miles per hour (60 kph). If you were flying that fast you’d hit 250 mph without breaking a sweat.
As you can imagine, all that flying takes a lot of energy. They seem docile to us, but in reality our black-and-red friends are voracious predators. A single adult can munch as many as 50 aphids in one day. There’s a reason terrifying childhood classics like Fern Gully used beetles as badass getaway vehicles: they’re fast, they’re hardcore, and holy hell can they fly.