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Have you seen any ladybirds?

Tim Scoones Tim Scoones | 14:45 UK time, Wednesday, 5 May 2010

If like us, you blinked and the last two weeks have become a distant memory you will be forgiven for not noticing the sleepy emergence of one of our most loved garden insects. What started off as a few singular office sightings has now developed into a spot-spotting frenzy. Ladybirds are everywhere.

But our native ladybirds are under threat , with sightings of the five-spot becoming rarer and rarer. This is partly due to the arrival in the UK of the invasive harlequin ladybird. Originally from Asia, the harlequin arrived on our shores in 2004 from mainland Europe where it's routinely used in agriculture to control aphid populations. Unfortunately for our native ladybirds the harlequin is a more generalised feeder and is able to reproduce continuously throughout spring, summer and autumn, allowing its populations to grow steadily in size.

Scarce seven©spot (Coccinella magnifica) © Ken Dolbear / CEH
Scarce seven©spot (Coccinella magnifica) ©Ken Dolbear

Today is the launch of a new ladybird project that will help scientists learn more about the lifecycle of ladybirds, their identification, their habitats and natural enemies. BBC Breathing Places has joined forces with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) to help map your ladybirds sightings. From the 24 May, you can report your sightings online with the national ladybird survey. Mapping the changes in distribution of ladybird populations over time will help researchers at CEH better understand the impact of invasive species on native populations.

Seven-spot with parasitic wasp - Racheal Hardie

Ladybird populations are also affected by their natural enemies which include a few birds, large beetles, and parasites such as phorid flies, chalcid wasps and braconid wasps. But could the parasites, usually found on ladybirds native to Britain, reduce the numbers of harlequin ladybirds in Britain?

Dr Helen Roy from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and her colleagues at the University of Cambridge believe that native parasites are beginning to use harlequin ladybirds as hosts and this might help slow the population boom of harlequin ladybirds. But they need your help to confirm this theory. From the 24 May, you can also join in with the ladybird parasite survey. This is a chance to literally grow your own science project: collect a pupa, observe it develop and report what emerges. Friend or foe!

In the meantime, test your ladybird knowledge with our ladybird quiz.


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