I found a red ladybird with three perfect black spots on one side of its body, and two on the other.
‘You’re nice,’ I whispered to it, in case anyone heard me talking to a ladybird.
‘Thank you,’ said the ladybird in a tiny little voice I could barely hear.
A talking ladybird, I thought to myself. Now, there’s a thing.
‘Can I ask you a question?’ I said to it.
‘Fire away,’ replied the ladybird and crawled to the tip of my finger so we could converse more easily.
‘Why do you have three spots on one side of your body, and only two on the other?’
‘A good question,’ said the ladybird. I think she might have smiled at me, but it was hard to tell. ‘Well done for being so observant. We ladybirds don’t live awfully long so we celebrate our birthdays every month rather than every year like you humans. And every month for our birthday we get a new spot. So, you see, I have just turned five months old.’
Congratulations,’ I said to the ladybird. ‘But what happens when you have no more room for black spots?’
‘Well, to be honest, not many of us make it that far. No, don’t look sad. We are not meant to get too old. But there are a few who do, and they become black ladybirds with red spots.’
‘I have seen them!’ I said, excited in spite of myself. ‘So those are very old ladybirds?’
‘Indeed they are,’ said my friend gravely. ‘They are our elders and we respect them greatly.’
‘And does the same thing happen with their red spots?’ I asked. ‘Do they start off with just one, then get another for every month until…until they have no more black left?’
The ladybird looked at me. I think she had a perplexed expression on her face, but it was hard to tell.
We both fell silent for a while. Then she waved one of her front legs in farewell, and flew off.