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Look out for Harlequin Ladybirds

May 2013

a common UK ladybirdLadybirds are a fundamental part of a British summer.

These pretty spotted red members of the beetle family usually mate in spring and summer and the female lays a cluster of eggs which hatch in  about a week. After 10 to 15 days as a lava, the ladybird will develop into a charming fluttering ladybird. Its entire lifespan is usually around only four to seven weeks. However, as the temperature drops they tend to stop flying around and in cold weather can enter a diapauses or sort of hibernation where they can live off their own energy reserves for up to as long as nine months. They usually emerge as the temperature heats up again which coincides with their food sources - including tiny aphids - becoming available.

There are around 46 different species of ladybird  (coccinellidae) in the UK and generally they are all very pretty. They are often a favourite with young children as they can occasionally land on hands and legs.

Harlequin LadybirdIn recent years though a new type of ladybird has entered the UK. The harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis) is native to eastern Asia but was introduced to parts of north America and also Europe to control aphids. Inevitably it has arrived in the UK, first seen here around 2004. Out of many ladybird species, the harlequin is the most invasive ladybird of all and now it is steadily expanding its territory across the land.

This is not desirable. First it is larger and yellower than our native ladybirds and therefore not as pretty. But far more important is that the harlequin has a voracious appetite. This means it out competes our native smaller ladybirds for the same limited food sources. Even worse, sometimes it can eat other ladybirds.

Since the introduction of the harlequin, our native ladybird species have experienced dramatic declines.

Harlequin LadybirdAnother thing against the harlequin is that the surviving insects during winter tend to migrate indoors. Here they can leave an unpleasant odour and also a stain left by their bodily fluids when frightened or squashed, and even worse, they can bite humans.

A final fear is that if the harlequins do take over, then the UK will be left with only one main species of ladybird. If anything happened to that, the natural control of aphids would be threatened.

Harlequin ladybirds are being watched carefully by researchers and scientists in the UK. There is more information on various environmental web pages including on:
http://www.harlequin-survey.org/

 




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