Ladybird spotting: British v foreign bugs

Ladybirds no longer come in one colour - red with symmetrical black spots. Now there are red ones, orange ones, yellow, brown and black ones. And, to the dismay of gardeners and farmers, invasive incomers are gobbling up native species. But how to tell the difference?

FIVE LADYBIRDS COMMONLY SEEN IN BRITAIN

Name British? Habitat Characteristics

Source: UK Ladybird Survey and BBC interactive spotters' guide

Orange harlequin (Mike Majerus

Harlequin - orange

Cross

Native of eastern Asia.

Imported by European and US farmers to prey on pests.

Very invasive.

Eats other ladybirds, as well as larvae and eggs of other insects.

Imports banned in 2004.

Harlequins spread to south-east England that same year.

Now widespread and found as far north as Scotland.

Larger than most at 6-8mm.

Its name refers to the many different wing colours.

Orange with 15-21 black spots is most common - 75% of harlequin sightings in the UK Ladybird Survey.

But some are yellow, some red and others black (see below).

7-spot ladybird on grass (Michael Kilner photo via Centre for Ecology & Hydrology)

Seven-spot ladybird

Tick

Most common of the native species.

Often found in grasses and nettles, and a familiar garden inhabitant.

Also a big ladybird at 6-8mm in length.

Red with seven spots, as its name implies.

Eats aphids - which sucks the sap out of plants - so popular with gardeners and farmers.

Black harlequin (photo via Centre for Ecology & Hydrology)

Harlequin - black

Cross

25% of UK harlequin population.

But rare in the US, where harlequins are mainly orange.

Harlequins of all colours typically found in trees and nettle patches.

Two or four red spots.

Brown legs, just like orange, red and yellow harlequins.

Another common feature of the harlequin - whatever its colour - is a raised ridge at the rear across its wing cases.

Two 14-spot ladybirds mating (photo via Centre for Ecology & Hydrology)

14-spot ladybird

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Had been in decline, but rallied in 2010 UK Ladybird Survey.

This may be because more food - aphids - available, either because other ladybird species in decline, or aphids had a good year themselves.

At 4mm, it's half the size of seven-spot and harlequin ladybirds.

Wide variety in its markings - its often rectangular spots often fuse.

May be yellow with black spots, or black with yellow spots.

Two-spot ladybirds (photo via Centre for Ecology & Hydrology)

Two-spot ladybird (comes in red and black)

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Widespread. Most at risk from harlequins as habitats and prey - aphids - overlap.

Container of mail order ladybirds (photo by Ivor Hewstone) Two-spots are also sold online to gardeners

Small ladybird at 4-5mm.

Because two-spots are small, harlequins simply devour them.

May be red with two black spots, or black with two red spots (plus two red blobs on shoulders).

AND FIVE YOU'RE LESS LIKELY TO SEE

Name

British?

Habitat

Characteristics

24-spot (photo courtesy Mike Majerus via Centre for Ecology & Hydrology)

24-spot ladybird

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Increasing in numbers and distribution.

Spreading north and west from south-east England.

May benefit from climate warming - grasslands and meadows heat up faster, meaning more habitats available.

Small and hairy species at 3-4mm.

Has up to 26 spots.

Wings covered in fine hairs.

Unlike the 2-spot ladybird, its habitat doesn't overlap with the much bigger harlequin.

13-spot ladybird (photo courtesy Peter Brown via Centre for Ecology & Hydrology)

13-spot ladybird

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Was thought extinct in the UK.

But now recolonising southern England from mainland Europe and the Channel Islands.

Spotted from Hampshire to Cornwall.

Typically found in marshy areas.

May have between seven and 15 spots - despite its name.

5-7mm in length.

More elongated and flattened body than rounder ladybirds such as the familiar seven-spot.

Inconspicuous ladybird (photo via Centre for Ecology & Hydrology)

Inconspicuous ladybird

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Rare, and on the red list of endangered species.

But this may be because - as the name suggests - it is a difficult ladybird to spot.

Mainly found in south-east England.

Feeds on scale insects.

Often found basking on ivy-clad walls.

Tiny at just 1.5-2mm in length.

Wings vary from light to dark brown.

Some have cream bow-shaped marking on back.

Bryony ladybirds mating (Mike Majerus photo via Centre for Ecology & Hydrology)

Bryony ladybird

Cross

An incomer, but a benign one, says ladybird expert Helen Roy.

"It just feeds on white bryony plants. It doesn't cause any problems, and - unlike other ladybirds - it doesn't solve any by eating pests."

First spotted in Oxfordshire in 1997, and has spread slowly into Surrey.

5-7mm in length.

Orange wings with 11 small black spots.

Covered in fine, downy hairs.

Water ladybird with summer colouration (Gilles San Martin photo via

Water ladybird

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Found on reeds and grasses in England and Wales.

Also starting to spread into Scotland.

Elongated 4mm body makes it look beetle-like.

Changes colour with the seasons.

Brown when dormant in winter to blend in with dried leaves.

Orange and red in summer - danger colours to warn off predators.

David Attenborough on ants v ladybird

Ants see off a ladybird as it tries to eat aphids

There's an insect that gardeners loath. Aphids. But in the undergrowth, aphids have friends - ants. Aphids excrete a sugary liquid that ants love.

Just as shepherds protect their flocks against wolves, ants protect aphids against predators such as ladybirds. That's not easy - it's quite hard to get a grip on the polished shell of a ladybird.

These are just some of the 46 species of ladybird resident in Britain - only 26 of which look like the classic round, spotty ladybird familiar from the children's books.

With native species under threat, and many gardeners turning to natural methods of pest control, mail order ladybirds are growing in popularity.

"I don't think this is particularly useful but it does seem to be quite popular," says ladybird expert Helen Roy, of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.

"I would highly recommend gardeners to make their gardens suitable for ladybirds and encourage them in, rather than releasing mail order insects. Ladybirds are so mobile they simply disperse after release - even if in a greenhouse."

With both larvae and adult ladybirds for sale, "it can be interesting for people to watch the development of ladybirds", she adds.

Newly emerged ladybirds are bright yellow, and it is only as the wings harden that the distinctive colour and markings of each species develops.

Many species are named after the number of spots on their wings, but counting these is not always a reliable method of identification - the 13-spot ladybird, for instance, may have up to 15 spots. And some have stripes, patches or streaks.

But in telling a harlequin apart from a British ladybird, size is the most reliable marker - only the native seven-spot is as big.

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