Ladybirds are beetles, members of the family Coccinellidae. They can be found across the world living in woodlands and gardens, where they are particularly welcome for munching on pests such as aphids. Ladybirds display a remarkable array of colours and patterns, as well as some interesting adaptations for avoiding predation…
Invasion of the harlequin
The harlequin ladybird, originally from Asia, was introduced to the UK around 2004. It’s a much larger bug in comparison with the UK’s 46 species and occupies the same ecological niche (meaning it lives in the same place, and has the same function in the ecosystem) as the native two-spot ladybird. Harlequins feast on aphids, lacewings, hoverflies and even other ladybirds and are out-competing the original British two-spots for space and food, causing a 30 per cent decline in the two-spot population.
These invasive bugs are also becoming a household nuisance, as they are known to gather in their droves in the corners of windows and doors to shelter from wet winter weather. Hundreds of the critters can appear very quickly and although posing no danger to human health, the invaders exude a gooey yellow substance from their knees that can stain wallpaper and paint.
As the 15-spotted ladybird gets older, it changes its colour to suit
It’s a common misconception that counting a ladybird’s spots tells you how old it is. However, for the 15-spotted ladybird, you can tell its age just by looking at it! Found mostly in the western USA, this beetle begins adult life wearing a light grayish-purple. As it gets older, the wing cases that sport the 15 marvelous spots (technically called elytra) darken. When the ladybird reaches old age, usually between one and two years, its colour will have changed to a deep purple or even a shade of black. Some 15-spotted ladybirds may be so dark in colour that their 15 black spots are no longer visible.
The eye-spotted ladybird uses a clever optical illusion to deter predators
This ladybird makes its home in conifer forests and enjoys feasting upon the small bugs that live within tree species such as pines. The beautiful spots on the back of this bug are ringed with orangey-yellow, and look a lot like ‘eyes’. The detail of these spots is designed to make the ladybird look like the eyes of a much larger animal. When creatures such as birds looking for a ladybird lunch spot the ‘eyes’ of an eyed ladybird, they will often mistake them for the features of an animal that might want to make a meal of them, and so leave well alone.
The 14-spotted ladybird prefers squares to the traditional circle patterns
This little beetle is often seen with a creamy-white to yellow colour, but its most defining feature is that the large black spots on its back are actually more of a square shape. So, technically they’re not ‘spots’ at all, and can give the ladybird and almost chequered appearance. The bright yellow colour and vibrant square markings warn off any potential predators, as this species is also able to secrete a pungent liquid from its joints. If you were to handle this ladybird and it does this, you’ll know instantly as the substance has a distinctive smell and will stain your hands yellow!
The plain-coloured larch ladybird has a clever trick up its knees
This type of ladybird doesn’t sport the splendid spots that its cousins are famed for, and is often seen in a drab shade of beige. However, what makes this beetle one of the canniest of them all is its ability to reflex bleed. Many ladybird species can do this as a chemical defense, triggered by an attack from a predator such as frogs, birds or other insects. The ladybird exudes a toxic fluid from joints in its exoskeleton, making it taste incredibly bad to whatever is trying to eat it. Both adults and larvae are able to do this, to prevent them from being eaten!