Life in the fast lane: Ladybirds may be small but they don’t let that get in the way of flying as fast as a horse and as high as a mountain
To take to the skies, ladybirds open their elytra, the hardened shell that encases the hindwings and protects the body. The eye-catching elytra act as forewings during flight and generate lift, while the delicate hindwings propel the beetle forward. Their hindwings move too fast for the human eye to see, beating at around 85 times per second – that’s an incredible 5,100 times in a minute.
Until 2014 a distance of two metres (6.5 feet) was generally accepted as the threshold for long-haul flight in ladybirds. Anything less was considered trivial flight for foraging and moving around the habitat. However, research from the University of Hull has disproved this and given us an insight into how resilient these little bugs are. Using radar equipment, the scientists monitored how fast and how high seven-spot ladybirds fly. It’s a subject that has received little attention to date because of the difficulties in tracking insects in the field.
Amazingly, the ladybirds were found at heights of 1,100 metres (3,600 feet) above ground level, flying at speeds as fast as 60 kilometres per hour (37 miles per hour). That’s nearly as high as the tallest mountain in the UK, Ben Nevis, and as fast as a running horse.
The average flying time is around 37 minutes, but the little beetles can remain airborne for up to two hours. If ladybirds are able to fly at their top speed for this time, they could potentially fly 119 kilometres (74 miles) in one journey.
Image from www.flickr.com/photos/stuutje