I remember the beginning of the well-known Mexican song by Marcos A. Jiménez:
Adiós, Mariquita linda,
ya me voy porque tú ya no me quieres
como yo te quiero a ti.
Goodbye, pretty little Marica,
I’m going away now because you no longer love me
As much as I love you.
Written with a capital letter, Mariquita is the diminutive of Marica, which itself is a pet form of María (as is Maruca). But with a small letter, mariquita is the Spanish word for what English variously calls a ladybug, a ladybird, or now increasingly and with biological accuracy a lady beetle. That the Spanish name for the insect should be linked to María may seem strange, but in Catholic countries, of which Spain is one, María understandably has strong positive connotations. This is the María/Mary to whom people, including Paul McCartney, find themselves appealing in times of trouble. And appealing to our eyes is the bright red covering of the ladybug—note how the English term likewise refers to Mary, though using not her name but her title, [Our] Lady. Esthetics aside, farmers and agronomists have found the ladybug to be beneficial because it eats various types of smaller insects that can damage crops, and that beneficial nature is apparently the common quality that originally linked the ladybug to Our Lady.
© 2011 Steven Schwartzman
P.S. Readers who’d like to supplement these words with a picture can turn to my recently launched nature photography blog to see a photograph of a lady beetle in a colony of wild sunflowers.