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By Remy Poland

Who we are

 We are five biologists working in teaching and research with a love of natural history, and a passion for ladybirds in particular!  Together we run the UK Ladybird Survey to encourage others to get involved in biological recording, and to monitor the status of UK ladybirds. Remy Poland is a biology teacher at Clifton College. Helen Roy is an ecologist at NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. Richard Comont is a PhD student at NERC CEH. Peter Brown is a lecturer in zoology at Anglia Ruskin University. Lori Lawson-Handley is a lecturer in evolutionary biology at the University of Hull.

 What we do

The UK Ladybird Survey was launched in 2005, following the arrival of the invasive harlequin ladybird, Harmonia axyridis, in Britain.  It built upon the success of previous recording schemes, such as the Coccinellidae Recording Scheme and the Cambridge Ladybird Survey.  The is was to allow members of the public to submit records of both harlequin ladybirds and native British species by means of an online recording form.

The UK Ladybird Survey  was launched in 2005, following the arrival of the invasive harlequin ladybird in Britain.  It built upon the success of previous recording schemes, such as the Coccinellidae Recording Scheme and the Cambridge Ladybird Survey.  The aim is to allow members of the public to submit records of both harlequin ladybirds and native British species by means of an online recording form.

Harlequin Ladybirds

Harlequin Ladybird Larva feeding on a greenfly

The harlequin ladybird (above) is native to central and eastern Asia, but has long been used to control pest insects such as aphids in North America and continental Europe.  It was first recorded in south-east England in 2004, and has since spread rapidly to become one of the most commonly seen ladybirds in the UK.  Members of the public have submitted over 30,000 records of harlequin sightings, verified by the survey’s experts by inspection of specimens or photos, and this has allowed us to build up accurate maps of its distribution and spread.  In addition to this, we have received many thousands of records of native British species, which have also contributed to national distribution maps and the publication of a ladybird atlas in 2011.  This data is invaluable in monitoring the impact of harlequin ladybirds on native species, with which they compete for food and sometimes even prey upon (above).

2 Spot Ladybirds

Orange ladybird

Eyed Ladybird

Sadly, the data has revealed a significant decline in some species, most notably the 2-spot ladybird (above).  Rather more encouragingly, we have seen an increase in numbers of the orange ladybird (above)in recent years – this is a mildew feeder that may have benefited from prolonged spells of wet summer weather and lack of competition for food with harlequins (which prey on aphids).  Another species that appears relatively unaffected by the harlequin (and the favourite species of many of the survey team!) is the eyed ladybird, a large species whose larvae are covered by an armoury of thick spines which protect them from hungry harlequins (above).  It is vital that we continue to assess the status of all ladybirds in Britain, as this will help us to conserve their habitats and communities in the future.

7-spot ladybird infected with the parasitoid wasp Dinocampus coccinellae

A parasitoid fly on a Harlequin ladybird pre-pupa

As well as submitting records of ladybird sightings, we are also encouraging people to look out for the natural enemies of ladybirds.  Our research has shown that the harlequin ladybird is less susceptible to a range of natural enemies, including a fungal pathogen, and some parasitoid wasps and flies (above).  This apparent immunity may partly explain why the harlequin has spread so quickly in this country.  It will be interesting to monitor this situation over time – it may be that British natural enemies start to utilise the harlequin ladybird as a novel host.

10 fun facts about ladybirds

  1.  Ladybirds are beetles, belonging to the insect order ‘Coleoptera’, and the family ‘Coccinellidae’.
  2. Ladybirds undergo a full metamorphosis, hatching from an egg into a larva, then changing from a larva to a pupa, and then finally transforming from a pupa into an adult [ladybird life cycle, larva, pupa- See below].
  3. Ladybirds are named after the Virgin Mary, who was often depicted wearing a red cloak.  The red of a 7-spot ladybird is said to represent ‘Our Lady’, while the seven spots represent her seven joys and seven sorrows.
  4. The number of spots on a ladybird does not tell you how old it is, spot number varies between species, but also within species due to factors like temperature.
  5. There are 47 species of ladybird found in Britain, only 27 of these are brightly coloured and conspicuous, the rest are small, often hairy, and can be difficult to identify at first.
  6. Not all ladybirds are red with black spots! Some are black with red spots, some are yellow with black spots, some are orange with white spots, and one species even has stripes!  Ladybirds show ‘warning colouration’: they contain bitter-tasting chemicals and advertise their distastefulness to predators with bright and memorable colours and patterns.
  7. Most species of ladybird eat greenfly or blackfly, some eat scale insects, some eat plants and some even eat mildew!
  8. Not many things eat ladybirds as they do not taste very nice, but they are attacked by some parasites and pathogens
  9. The largest ladybird species in Britain is the eyed ladybird
  10. The smallest of the ‘conspicuous’ ladybirds is the 16-spot ladybird

Ladybird Life Cycle

Get spotting!

Looking for ladybirds in a pine tree using a beating tray

Hunting for ladybirds is fun, simple and easy to learn.  It can be done in your garden, at public parks and woodland, and even in school grounds and churchyards.  Three pieces of equipment are useful here: a beating tray or light coloured umbrella, a sweep net and a long stout stick.  To look for ladybirds in trees, place the beating try/ umbrella beneath the foliage, and firmly tap the branches with the stick (above photo) .  Any insects resting in the tree will fall into the tray and you can try to identify them (ladybirds are easy to spot once you have your eye in, but take a look at the other creatures you might find: earwigs, shield bugs, flies, wasps, caterpillars etc.).  Lime, sycamore and oak are particularly good for ladybirds, but you might also like to try some conifers like Scots pine, to find more specialist species like the eyed and striped ladybirds.

To look for ladybirds in grass and meadowland, a sweep net can be used.  An improvised version can be created by using an old pillow case held open by a coat hanger and mounted onto a handle.  Walk through the grass and sweep the net from side to side in a figure-of-eight motion.  Insects in the undergrowth will be knocked into the net and can then be inspected.

You will also need an identification guide so you can try to determine which species of ladybird you have found.  The most useful is the FSC ladybird field guide (a guide for ladybird larvae is also available), but there is also plenty of information and photos on our website, including downloadable ID sheets for the most common species.  A more comprehensive coverage is given in the NERC atlas – Ladybirds (Coccinellidae) of Britain and Ireland.

Don’t forget to record your sightings online at www.ladybird-survey.org.  Happy spotting!

[Photos by Remy Poland and Mike Majerus]

Further information

www.ladybird-survey.org

Brown, P.M.J., Roy, H.E., Comont, R. & Poland, R.L. (2012) Guide to the ladybird larvae of the British Isles.  OP152. FSC.

http://www.field-studies-council.org/publications/pubs/ladybird-larvae.aspx

Majerus, M.E.N., Roy, H.E., Brown, P.M.J., Frost, R. & Ware, R.L. & Shields, C. (2006) Guide to ladybirds of the British Isles.  OP102. FSC.

http://www.field-studies-council.org/publications/pubs/guide-to-ladybirds-of-the-british-isles.aspx

Roy, H.E., Brown, P.M.J., Frost, R. & Poland, R.L. (2011) Ladybirds (Coccinellidae) of Britain and Ireland.  NERC CEH.

http://www.ceh.ac.uk/products/publications/Ladybirds-Britain-Ireland-atlas.html

Roy, H.E., Brown, P.M.J., Comont, R., Poland, R.L. & Sloggett, J.J. (2012) Ladybirds (Naturalists’ Handbooks 10).  Pelagic Publishing, Exeter.

http://www.pelagicpublishing.com/ladybirds-naturalists-handbooks.html

 

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Joe works for the Wildlife Trusts and knows most everything there is to know about trees. He came along to our Meet the Species feature event at WOMAD festival this year to help festival goers learn about the amazing and varied UK native trees as well as the impressive planted trees around the arboretum.
We just wanted to take the opportunity to embarrass Joe with a little video of him giving a giant, non-native Turkey Oak a bit of a cuddle!

The Turkey Oak – Quercus cerris – grows much faster than our native Oak species and can be recognised by its strange, spikey acorns.

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With the recent onslaught of bad weather and dull, grey weekends, who’d have thought it was that time of year again where the BNHC gang don our festival wear and stock up on baby wipes!? As we prepared to set off on our annual adventure to WOMAD festival in Wiltshire, it looked as if the skies were on our side and we excitedly swapped our raincoats for sun cream and wellies for sandals.

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During previous years at the festival the Meet the Species stand and activities, have quickly become a popular feature at the festival. WOMAD’s notoriety as a laid back weekend affair, jam packed with arts, crafts, music and dance lives up to its reputation with plenty of relaxing, creative and stimulating things to do. Our Meet the Species stall sits shaded by the enormous and beautiful trees within the arboretum that the large country estate has to offer. Surrounded by lots of other twee stalls and workshops, the arboretum is a lively and busy hub of activity with Meet the Species leading the nature enthusiasts on short walks, talks and workshops.

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This year we decided to take 2 large gazebo’s to set up as our base, offering punters the chance to admire the small things in nature under microscopes, identify their creepy crawly catching’s using our literature and expert help, and indulge in some shaded arts and crafts for our large meadow collage. We decorated the stall with colourful bunting and our trusty mascot, the bee made an appearance.

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Over the weekend we had a consistent show of interest from a hugely diverse audience. We were lucky enough to be joined by some fellow naturalists (and old friends of BNHC) who took groups out on short nature walks, teaching and showing the public about the specialist subjects. First up was our good pals Paul and Jane who gathered a large crowd on their Plants and Insects walk. Even we were astonished by their never ending knowledge of all things living. Jane spent the weekend scouring the luscious green grounds for as many species of grass and wild plants in an effort to boost out species count. Her memory for Latin names put our spelling to shame! Paul got fully involved with all areas of our surrounding nature, with some great photographs to accompany our own collection.

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If there ever was a lady who knew all there is to know about Ladybirds, it’s got to be the wonderful Remy, who valiantly lead the crowds into peculiar and enthralling search parties for the tiny spotted bugs! The participants were amazed to see Remy tree whacking, branch shaking and net swooshing, all of which paid off as we found a good number of Ladybirds over the weekend, unfortunately a large number of Harlequin Ladybirds which are non-native pests. Never the less the kids loved spot counting and many eyes made light work when searching high and low!

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Being located in the arboretum it would have been a tall shame if we hadn’t of got our friend Joe to lead our ‘Treemendous Trees’ walk and talk, sharing his infinite knowledge of all things wooden. We learnt some great facts from Joe and got the festival love well underway, participating in some good old tree-hugging. Joe was kind enough to lend us some saws and ethically sourced branches to cut into necklaces to decorate which went down a right treat.

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We couldn’t have been more impressed with ‘Maurice the Moth Man’, who turned up each morning with some of the most amazing moths we’d ever seen, from his personal moth trap at home. We thought we had a winner with the stunning Elephant Moth, who’s beautiful fuchsia and green colours are taken from its favourite feast, the honeysuckle plant. That was until Maurice brought us an astonishingly large Poplar Hawk Moth, which was so large and of such peculiar shape, we’d most definitely crown it our moth champion of the weekend. Maurice set up our own friendly moth trap which brought in a plethora of large, small, plain and patterned species, all of which added to our final species count on Sunday.

ImageAs the weekend went on the glorious (if not slightly roasting) weather cooled down slightly, and with a light over-night shower, we were able to set our mammal traps. We hoped to see out the weekend in furry fashion and we were not disappointed. Our own Matt bravely donned a thick bite-proof glove and headed out to inspect the traps. Our gourmet meal worm had had the right effect and we had visits from two Shrews and one Wood Mouse. The Shrews were put straight back into the undergrowth and the Wood Mouse made a quick escape for freedom before we could get a closer look, but it was overall a success.

ImageOver the weekend our main aim was to identify and record as many different species, to add towards our national Meet the Species project, funded by the Cultural Olympiad. Over the course of the weekend we recorded in excess of 208 different species- an amazing figure, which we have all of our naturalists, and of course the enthusiasm of the public to thank for.- which will add to our target of 2012 species by the end of the Olympic Games. Thank you to WOMAD festival for having us!

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Overall the weekend was a super success, we got to enjoy some great music, rub shoulders with some awe inspiring celebrities (Very exciting….. keep your eyes peeled for more on this soon…….!!) and revel in the sunny and laidback atmosphere of the festival. With just enough time to catch up on sleep before our next Meet the Species escapade at Wilderness Festival on 10-12th August, don’t forget to check out our website and right here on the blog for more information on how you can get involved with  and for more information on the project finale (12 day extravaganza) which is on the very close horizon!

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Brown-lipped Snail at WOMAD

A brown-lipped Snail explores the Meet the Species gazebo at WOMAD

Last weekend Meet the Species made the short trip to Wiltshire for our first music festival of the summer, taking our wonderful wildlife discovery roadshow to WOMAD festival. WOMAD is a celebration of the diversity of music, art and dance from across the globe, but this year festival-goers were also able to experience the amazing diversity of species to be found underneath their very feet in the beautiful Charlton Park arboretum.

The Meet the Species gazebo in the Charlton Park Arboretum

The Meet the Species gazebo was surrounded by keen festival-goers

With expert assistance from our local naturalists Paul, Jane, Neil and Mark, and boundless enthusiasm from visitors young and old alike, we set out to explore the arboretum, with species hunts leaving every half an hour and all returning with new findings to be added to the list and examined under the microscope. Despite the trampling feet of 30,000 music fans, our hunts uncovered insects and minibeasts aplenty, from beetles to spiders, bumblebees to moths.

Dor Beetle at WOMAD

A Dor Beetle, just one of the many insect species found at WOMAD

On Saturday evening, around twenty-five people gathered, armed with detectors, to follow Mark on a bat walk, and despite the loud music, we were able to hear and see several common and soprano pipistrelles. Our hunt for small mammals continued on Sunday morning, as Mark led a crowd to check the traps placed in the undergrowth the night before, and discovered both a wood mouse and a rather feisty yellow-necked mouse.

Mark with mouse

The crowd gathers to see what has been found in the mammal traps

After three days hunting, by Sunday evening we had been able to find a grand total of 166 different species, a great total that showed just how much it is possible to find even in a site full of crowds of people. A huge thank you must go to our wonderfully knowledgeable and engaging naturalists, and to all our enthusiastic species hunters who combed the woods, fields, hedgerows and ditches of Charlton Park throughout the weekend. The next stop for Meet the Species is Lollibop festival in London’s Regent’s Park, so come and join us there as we continue the race towards 2012 species!

Wood mouse

A wood mouse found in one of our overnight mammal traps

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