Ladybirds/Lady bugs

Ladybirds known in America as ladybug or lady beetles belong to the Order Coleoptera in the Class Insecta. They are placed in the family Coccinellidae which roughly translated means "Clad in scarlet". They are found world wide and over 5000 species are recognised. They are usually small some just 10mm long. In Britain we have 47 British residents, and, they tend to be the most colourful with many of the other 5000 species being dull in comparison, being black, grey or brown. 

Most people I know seem to like ladybirds even when they detest other "creepy crawlies". 

Coccinella species.

Courtesy of Gilles San Martin CC BY-SA  2.0 license.Coccinella magnifica01.jpg

Ladybird life style.

The cycle of life of these interesting creatures commences in spring when adults emerge and eggs are deposited. The eggs are placed wherever the food source occurs, normally where there is an infestation of aphids. Ladybirds can lay single eggs or hundreds of eggs depending on the species. When the larvae hatch and their mouth parts harden they may well eat any of the other eggs that have not hatched. 

Aphid eating ladybirds produce larvae that also gouge on these garden pests.The larvae pupate to emerge as adults. A second brood will emerge as adults in mid-summer. All British ladybirds over winter as adults.

Ladybird larvae on lime foliage


Biting ladybirds?

Ladybirds are capable of biting humans especially if there is a shortage of aphids that some times occurs. the bite manifests itself in the form of a stinging sensation which produces a small lump on the skin. I remember a summer during the 1990s when hundreds of thousands of them had migrated towards the sea at Southport, Lancashire where the promenade was littered with them and bites on humans was common place during their stay. However, these events are relatively rare and in "normal" years ladybirds and man get along fine.

Variability in colour of lady birds.

Ladybirds can be a little confusing to identify. Even the colouring and spots of the same species are often variable.  For instance the Adonis ladybird may have anything from 3-15 spots. The 24 spot lady bird may have none or 28 spots, indeed it is rare that they have exactly 24 spots.

The background colour can also vary from being the common red colour with black spots  to yellow with black spots. The eyed lady bird has a russet background colour with black spots often surrounded by a yellow halo. Thus, other identification features need to be brought into play. The two spot and 10 spot lady birds often have varying patterns  but the two spot always has black legs while the ten spot has brown legs. The Larch ladybird is brown and completely unspotted. To help with visual identification of the species there is an excellent Photo gallery of many species on the Buglife website.

Threat to our native species from an invader.

During recent years a threat to our native ladybirds has arrived which may have devastating consequences . The Harlequin ladybird, Harmonia axyridis, is not only considered a threat to our lady birds but other species such as lacewings, butterflies {through eating their eggs} caterpillars and other insect larvae. Studies have shown that this species is also fond of soft fruit and in particular pears.

It is extremely invasive. It took the grey squirrel 100years to sptead throughout the UK it took the harlequin ladybird less than five years to do the same. The Harlequin lady bird was introduced from Asia into north America in the 1980s to control aphids that were feeding on crops, however the creature spread across the US like a plague and is now the commonest species there.

Harlequin lady bird

Harlequin or not?

The harlequin ladybird takes its common name from the fact that over 100 different colour patterns have been recorded making identification very difficult. some are reddish orange with black spots, while others are black with red patches such as the one photographed above. Again more information can be found on the Buglife website.

So how did the harlequins arrive in Britain. It was thought that they may have been imported via crates from north America, but many now believe that many may have crossed the Channel to arrive in the south of the country, from there they have rapidly spread northwards. In 2004 the first Harlequin was recorded in Britain by 2007 the first specimens were recorded in Scotland.

Although they are not dangerous to humans they do tend to hibernate in houses in large numbers. There are records of tens of thousands of lady birds being found in homes during the winter {north America} . In spring the ladybirds become active again and look for away out of the house.

There is currently a Harlequin Ladybird Survey being undertaken for details go to the Buglife website.

Remarkable findings in new research 2014

New research taken from radar examinations have revealed that lady birds can fly at up to 1,100 meters and travel at speeds of up to 37 miles per hour. This could well explain how invasive species such as the harlequin lady bird has spread so easily. Food ie aphids are an important factor in these movements. However, it seems that warm temperatures are more important to the ladybird and their movements.

It seems that the cold air over the mountain ranges seems to be a barrier to Harlequin ladybirds at the present,  for example the Pennine Hills and the Cambrian mountains. It is also thought that the lady bird can fly for as long as two hours, meaning they are capable of flying 75 miles in one flight.

This study is on going and much more needs to resolved about their movements.

These are the first recordings of a lady bird flying at such heights, explained Dr.Lori Lawson Handley , from the university of Hull, who led the research, " lady birds are very capable flyers on their own but this puts them higher where the winds can help them travel faster and further." 

Thank you for visiting.