During a cycle ride round the local countryside recently we stopped to have a look round North Wootton Churchyard and were surprised to see two gravestones well speckled with ladybird pupae. I had never seen so many together before. There were also some adult ladybirds crawling about on the stones and among the leaf litter below.
The scene got me wondering how many of these were harlequins – I think several may have been. Also, I wondered if one or two could be our native orange ladybirds – as can be seen from the pictures, there was a distinct size difference, which probably would be the case if the identifications were correct.
On the outside of the church door was a black ladybird with red markings. Another, similar one, was crawling about on the interior of the glass section of the door. As this was the first week-end in November and with a distinct chill in the afternoon air, I thought it was rather late in the season to be finding pupae at all.
Information given on my FSC fold-out sheet, ‘Guide to Ladybirds of the British Isles’ tells me that ladybirds such as the seven-spot, produce a single generation each year. However, “Others, such as the harlequin, may have two or more generations, as long as temperatures remain high and food is available.”
According to the sheet, there are more than 100 colour pattern variations of the harlequin ladybird. The harlequin comes from Asia but has been used as a biological control agent in the USA and mainland Europe. It then flew over the English Channel arriving in southeastern England in 2004. Since then, it has expanded its range and is predicted to spread to all parts of the UK. “The harlequin ladybird has been described as the most invasive ladybird species on Earth and poses a serious threat to biodiversity. It is a large and voracious species and has the potential to out-compete native ladybirds and other insects for food.”
The information on the sheet, continues: “It is a more generalist feeder than most native ladybirds and can turn to other food sources if aphids and coccids (these include scale insects) are limited, including the eggs and larvae of other insects (such as ladybirds and butterflies).”
“Many native ladybirds must undergo a period of winter dormancy before they can reproduce. In contrast, harlequin ladybirds can reproduce continuously through the spring, summer and even autumn, enabling populations to increase rapidly.”
Sadly, I have seen very few seven-spots or any other British ladybirds this year. In fact, I have not seen that many ladybirds of any description! I know the native species at least, are certainly cyclical so I shall hope for better things next year.
Also on this particular afternoon, the trees around the church seemed popular with rooks. And we found some large fungi in the grass in the churchyard.