Ladybirds Insects are always popular for their bright coloring, are also one of the few insects welcome in the garden for the work they do in keeping down destructive aphids. The familiar black and red ladybird is most people’s favorite beetle.
In the Middle-Ages it was associated with the Virgin Mary and called ‘beetle of Our Lady’; all our present-day names for this insect-ladybird, ladybug or sometimes ladybeetle is derived from this medieval title. Nowadays, ladybirds are welcomed by farmers and gardeners alike for the valuable work they do in keeping down aphids.
The coloring of most insects is designed to help them remain concealed from predators. However, the bright markings of ladybirds make them startlingly conspicuous. Moreover, the odd though it may seem, this coloration is a protective device.
Ladybirds Insects have a very unpleasant last and they advertise this fact to their enemies through their coloration, which makes them instantly recognizable. A predator such as a house sparrow only has to eat a ladybird once to discover the unpalatable taste; thereafter it will leave others alone.
Most species of ladybirds Insects are fairly similar in color they all gain blanket protection from looking alike. However, a few species, such as the red marsh ladybird (Coccidula rufa) and “RhyzobieS litura” which are a dull red-brown in color and more elongated in shape than other ladybirds, seem to be the exceptions to this rule.
No one really knows why this should be If you handle a ladybird, you’ll find it exudes a few drops of yellow, strong-smelling liquid-actually blood-which stains the hand and smells pungent for quite some time. This, an example of defensive ‘reflex bleeding’, is designed to alarm and warn off enemies. Occasionally ladybirds will also bite and are quite capable of giving a sharp nip.
Common or Garden Species
There are 45 different species of ladybird in the British Isles. Apart from their color, you can distinguish them from other beetles by their short clubbed antennae and 3-jointed feet. With one exception, they are all carnivorous, feeding on a variety of insects, especially aphids.
The exception to this rule is the vegetarian 24-spot ladybird which eats the leaves of clover. The ladybird you’ll find almost everywhere fields, gardens, woods-is the 7-spot, which is red in color with three bold black spots on each wing cover and an extra spot in the center of its back somewhere the wing cases meet.
You should also be able to find 2-spot and 10-spot ladybirds fairly readily; both these species are red with black spots, but both can be very variable. In some individual 2-spot ladybirds, for example, the black marks ‘run to form patterns rather than spots, while in others the colors may be reversed so the insect is black with red spots.
Some show melanism-darkness of color-which is curious since in some other insects, particularly moths; it is a camouflage condition that appears to have developed in heavily industrial areas where dark forms could not easily be seen on soot-grimed trees and buildings.
Ladybirds Insects do not normally require the protection of camouflage coloring Again, and something researchers Some 2-spot ladybirds even have extra spots or can be black with yellow spots, these can be confused with the 22-spot ladybirds which always yellow with black spots.
Ladybirds Insects often in winter in communal groups. You can find them sheltering beneath loose bark on trees and in similar protected places, even indoors in the corners of window frames and doors. In spring, they fly in search of plants such as nettles or rose bushes which are infested with aphids. Here they feed, mate and lay their eggs.
The eggs, usually deposited in batches of up to 50, are laid on the undersides of leaves. The larvae which emerge from the eggs are quite unlike the adults; they are long, thin, grub-like creatures, generally dark grey with yellow or orange markings.
In common with the adults, they have a voracious appetite for aphids, each larva can devour several hundreds of these unfortunate insects. After about three to four weeks of intensive feeding, the larvae moult to become pupae. The pupa case, similar in color to the larva, is attached to a leaf by the tail.
After one or two weeks in this transitional stage, the adult ladybird emerges from the pupa. In Britain, ladybirds normally have only one generation a year. Eggs are laid by overwintered females which have mated either in the autumn or, more usually, after hibernation.
Young adults spend the summer feeding or in a state of dormancy before hibernation. The complete life cycle takes seven to eight which continues to puzzle weeks.
The Year of the Ladybird
Therefore, during the hot, scorching dry summer of 1976 there was a ladybird population explosion in Britain. Swarms of 7-spot ladybirds were reported in towns and on beaches, with complaints that people were being bitten. Tests showed that some ladybirds were actually imbibing human blood, but most were drinking sweat to obtain water.
The irritations were probably caused by reactions to the ladybird’s own bitter blood, which gave some people a pricking sensation. The build-up in numbers in fact started in the warm summer of 1975. Aphids were abundant in the spring and early summer but became scarce by mid-summer. That is forced the ladybirds to travel in search of foodstuff.
Many migrated to towns increasing the population there by about 50 times its usual number and remained there during the subsequent mild winter. They bred in huge numbers the following spring when, once again, aphids were plentiful. The population reached a peak in July 1976 when numbers were about 250 times the normal level.
There are around 45 different species of ladybird found in Britain. Most are instantly recognizable as ladybirds for their rounded shape and their spots. Coccidula and Rhyzobius are, however, exceptions to this rule. One factor is to bear in mind when identifying any species of ladybird is that their color and patterns vary enormously. The number of spots referred to in their name, in particular, is misleading – the 24-spot never has 24 spots!
Life Cycle of 2 -spot
In this picture, you can see eggs of the 2 -spot ladybird are laid in batches on the underside of leaves. One female can produce several hundred eggs in her lifetime.
2 -spot ladybird larva feeding on aphids. The larva will pupate after feeding for three or four weeks and undergoing three skin moults.
Pupae and one newly-emerged adult, whose wing cases take a few hours to harden and darken The adult emerges from the pupa after about six days.
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