Seven spots – Lunchtime Ladybird Counts

2 minutes

In 2004 the UK’s first record of a Harlequin Ladybird had scientists and naturalists worried – it eats our native ladybirds’ food and even their larvae. But the events that followed have shown us not just the dangers of invasive species, but also how anyone who loves to spend time in the countryside can help scientists understand our amazing natural

The Harlequin is native to Asia, but it’s so good at eating aphids that European farmers started releasing it as biological pest control. It was never released for biocontrol in the UK but it made it here anyway. It may have flown over the channel or arrived on imported flowers and vegetables.

In England it spread rapidly north, and many people noticed groups of large ladybirds, some red with lots of black spots and some black with two or four red spots (they like it in houses too – a large cluster quickly took up residence in my housemate’s bedroom).
This incredible spread was mapped by volunteers who recorded their sightings online every time they saw a Harlequin . It’s invaluable data to have collected, and everyone can help.

The UK ladybird survey was set up by British scientists who want to learn more about ladybirds – is this dry weather affecting them? Which species are doing well and which are declining? Are they appearing earlier in the year than they used to?

Knowing that they couldn’t possibly collect all the data they need, they have asked members of the public to submit records.  I’m lucky enough to be able to walk out of my office into beautiful countryside, and counting ladybirds helps give a new purpose to my lunchtime walks. I’m proud to say 203 was my highest count earlier in the year, but I think the lack of rain may be taking its toll – yesterday I only saw 3.

Some really interesting research has been going on about how much threat the Harlequin is to native ladybirds.  Thankfully, things may not be as bad as we initially feared.

So, when you’re enjoying some time outdoors keep a look out for ladybirds and report your sightings.  Don’t forget to look out for larvae too – like the beautiful harlequin larva in the photograph. If you need help with identification you can download ID sheets for adults and larvae.

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