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/