Tuesday, 8 December 2009

The ladybirds are back

Last Christmas we kept finding ladybirds on the dining room carpet. Not our native seven spot ladybirds, but insects with red, orange and black variations of colour and all kinds and numbers of black or red spots on their wing cases. One morning, as I opened the curtains, I found a cluster of these interesting creatures in each upper corner of the window frame. Somehow, they had found a passageway in through the frame and had come inside to shelter from the winter storms.

We had unwittingly become the hosts for a colony of harlequin ladybirds. They stayed undisturbed until spring, when they mysteriously disappeared and left me with no excuses. I really had to clean those window frames!

The harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis) is not a native of Britain or of Europe. It originated in Japan and was introduce to Europe as a method of controlling aphid infestations of crops. However, the harlequins proved a hardy species that began to spread and multiply. They arrived in England in 2004 and have been spreading, since then, across the British Isles.

Although they are a threat to our native ladybirds , naturalists now accept that the harlequin is here to stay. In our own garden, we had few aphids last year and we did see many native ladybirds as well as the harlequins.

The harlequin ladybird was introduced to North America in 1988 and has also spread rapidly across that continent. I do wonder at the wisdom of introducing a new and obviously successful species into an ecosystem where it has few predators.

The ladybird, named after Our Lady, who wore a red cloak in European folklore, is the subject of a well loved rhyme for children, which appears in several European languages and with regional variations. Here is the one which I learned as a child :

Ladybird, Ladybird, fly away home,
Your house is on fire, your children are gone,
All except one and her name is Ann
And she`s hiding under the pudding pan.

Emily Bronte wrote a charming variation :

Ladybird! Ladybird! Fly away home,
Night is approaching and sunset is come;
The herons are flown to their trees by the Hall,
Felt, but unseen, the damp dewdrops fall.
This is the close of a still summer day;
Ladybird! Ladybird! Haste! Fly away!

Rather blurred, but here are the harlequins, back in the corner of the window frame while winter rain batters the garden outside.

Cambridge University are leading a survey into the spread of harlequin ladybirds and more information can be found at http://www.harlequin-survey.org/


Morning's Minion said...

During our Vermont years, late 80's or early 90's, there was an invasion of "ladybugs" which became an annual event. I didn't count spots, so don't know if we were seeing great numbers of the common insect, or, as seems possible from reading your account, an influx of a slightly different looking "bug." They never seemed to arrive gradually or in small numbers. Suddenly, some autumn afternoon, there they were, whole families of them on the inside of the kitchen windows. The odd few got squashed, but I never tried to spray them or otherwise move them out. One flew into a spoonful of soup just as I put the spoon in my mouth--a very bitter flavor.

Bovey Belle said...

I don't think we've got any Harlequins here yet. Certainly none coming in through the windows anyway of any persuasian! You are the first landing place almost, coming over from Europe, so they are bound to be well settled in with their feet under the table by now.