As the weather gets warmer, ladybirds are becoming increasingly active. On sunny days you may see them exploring bushes and flowers in search of aphids, which are a pest for gardeners but a favourite snack for ladybirds. In fact, they like them so much that a single ladybird can eat 5,000 aphids in a year!
There are 46 different species of ladybird in the UK, but the most common is the bright red seven-spot. This cheerful beetle is the one that springs to mind when we think of the classic ladybird in a children’s storybook, but ladybirds come in a wide range of colours and patterns.
Not all ladybirds are spotty – some have stripes instead, and they vary in colour from sunny yellow to deepest black. These vibrant shells are also tiny suits of armour: the bright colours and bold patterns remind predators that they taste nasty, so after eating one, peckish birds and mammals don’t come back for more.
People used to think that the number of spots on a ladybird could tell you how old it was, but we now know that they are an indicator of species rather than age. Some ladybirds have useful names like the twenty-two spot, which can help you identify them, but there are some confusing variations in certain species.
For instance, the two-spot ladybird is typically red with two black spots, but it can also be black with four to six red spots. This is thought to be because it is more palatable than other species, so it mimics more toxic relatives to defend itself.
Another defence is to release a tiny drop of liquid when disturbed. This may sound harmless enough, but the fluid they excrete smells horrible and contains a poison. It won’t hurt a human but can be harmful to smaller animals, except for a few that are immune (such as swifts and swallows).
If you have ever held a ladybird you may have been on the receiving end of this unpleasant excretion, but if you can look past this they are great to have in the garden, where they act as natural pest controllers.
Visit our website to find out how you can make your patch a haven for ladybirds and other wildlife: hiwwt.org.uk/actions
Last Updated on March 19, 2020