Ladybirds of Aston Lodge Park
by Dave Emley
"Ladybird, Ladybird, fly away home. Your house is on fire, your children are gone". What a sad rhyme for one of our favourite insects! Ladybirds are one of those insects that everyone recognises and likes. Many of you will recall the Ladybird Books and gardeners will know them for their appetite for eating greenfly (aphids) - both adults and larvae are voracious predators. But, did you know that there are 47 species of ladybird in the UK? Some of them look quite unlike the red with black spots type of ladybird that we are all familiar with.
The shape of a ladybird is readily recognisable. It is a beetle and, as such, has 2 pairs of wings. The front pair are modified into hardened cases, that protect the insect when it is on the ground. When it flies, it raises these wing cases and unfolds its hindwings, which are packed origami-like under them.
The piece between the head and the wing cases, or elytra, is called the pronotum. It covers part of the thorax and can be important in identification.
The larvae and chrysalis all have a similar shape, but vary in colour and markings between species.
Many larvae feed on aphids, but some feed on moulds and mildews and some on other insects.
I have found 8 species of ladybird here, and all of these in our garden as well as elsewhere. So, keep an eye out for them. They are harmless and so good to get children interested. If you want to know a bit more, then the Field Studies Council produce a cheap fold-out guide to all the species.
This is a very common species, 5-8mm long and the one that folks associate with the word Ladybird. In the winter, they often congregate in groups (see header image). They have been suffering from competition with the Harlequin, but thankfully this year has seen good numbers. It can be subject to population explosions as happened in July and August 1976, when vast swarms were washed up on southern beaches - the "red tides" that some of you may remember.
A common and highly variable species, 4-5mm long, so smaller than the 7-spot. One of the problems with identifying ladybirds is that some species show various coloured forms, just to confuse us and here we see the black with red spots forms of the 2-spot. One form has 4 red spots, the other 6 but they are all the same species!
This has been an amazing success story, for it only arrived in the UK in 2003 and Staffordshire in 2008 and has now become one of the commonest ladybirds. Unfortunately, it has caused some concern, because it is bigger (5-8mm long) than most other ladybirds and can outcompete, attack, and kill our native species. It can be found in large numbers as was once seen on the willow bushes by the playground. It also can hibernate overwinter in large congregations. It is a highly variable species, which can make identification tricky. Below are 6 of its different forms.
Amongst ladybirds, its larvae are distinctive in having five pairs of orange markings on the abdomen. They are carnivorous, attacking and eating aphids, some other small insects as well as their own kind!
There are a few ladybirds that are genuinely black with red spots. This is one. It is tiny, 3-4.5mm long, in comparison to the three species already mentioned above and, as its name suggests, is associated with conifer trees, though other types are used. It is rather domed, rounded and with a pair of crescent-shaped red marks. It is one of the first ladybirds to emerge from hibernation and on warm days can be seen on tree trunks and fences in early spring.
A species of woodland and hedgerows, with a particular liking for Ash. It is predatory on aphids. It is maroon in colour, 4-5mm long, with 14 distinctive cream-coloured spots.
A distinctive and attractive, orange-coloured woodland species, with 16 whitish spots, that is spreading into gardens. It is medium-size, 4.5-6mm long and feeds on mildews on plants.
This is a small, yellow ladybird, with 20-22 black spots on the wing-cases and 5 more on the pronotum. It feeds on mildews that develop on various umbellifers, like Hogweed and Cow Parsley. They are only 3-4mm long.
A medium-sized, yellow ladybird, 3.5-4.5mm long. Can have 4-14 spots, but the typical form has some spots joined to form an anchor-like mark. It is an import aphid predator in agricultural systems.
Copyright © - December 2021. Unless otherwise stated, images and text: David Emley. All rights reserved.