Ladybirds (or ladybugs) are a kind of beetle that can often be found in fields, hedges and gardens during the warmer months of the year. Ladybirds can be red, orange or yellow and they have small black spots on their wing covers. There are lots of different species of ladybirds but the most common type found in Britain is the seven-spotted ladybird, which has red wing covers with seven black spots.
Many gardeners are pleased to see ladybirds because they eat aphids (tiny green insects that munch on plants). But you might have heard about the arrival of a new species – the harlequin ladybird – which is causing a spot of bother. So, let’s find out more about why the harlequins are seen as trouble-makers…
Some species of ladybirds, like the seven-spotted one, are ‘native’ to the UK. This means that they have always lived in this country. They are well-suited to eating creatures that normally exist in their habitats and they are helpful in keeping the numbers of aphids under control.
Other countries have different native species. For example, the harlequin ladybird comes from Asia. But several years ago, harlequins were taken to countries in Europe and North America (where they hadn’t lived before) to help farmers by eating the pests that destroy crops. Unfortunately, the harlequins have spread far and wide across these countries and been eating up the food that native ladybirds would normally eat. Harlequins also eat the eggs and larvae of other ladybirds, which means that some native European and American ladybird species are now struggling to survive. We didn’t expect that this would happen.
Some people think it was a mistake to take the harlequin ladybirds out of Asia and that we should try to get rid of them from Europe and America. However, it is quite tricky to spot the difference between the harlequins and other ladybird species. So, please don’t squish or harm any ladybirds that you find! It’s a much better idea to help scientists and nature lovers to keep track of different species by taking part in the UK ladybird survey.
And if you’d like to find out even more about ladybirds, check out this website, which has lots of ladybird facts.