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Ladybird The Ladybird Has Landed

Harlequin Ladybird - Photo  Copyright 2006 M. Akehurst Photo: M. Akehurst

UK Safari Tip:
A great way to see all the details on ladybirds is with a special magnifier box - click here


A new ladybird has arrived in Britain. But not just any ladybird: this is Harmonia axyridis, the most invasive ladybird on Earth.

Harmonia axyridis, which is variously called the Harlequin ladybird or the Multi-coloured ladybug, is a deadly threat to a suite of insects, including butterflies, lacewings and many other ladybirds.

Introduced from Asia into North America for biocontrol of aphids, the Harlequin has swept across the States, becoming by far the commonest ladybird in less than a quarter of a century since establishing there, and now Canada is seeing a similar spotted tide. In the last decade its catastrophic increase in numbers has threatened endemic North American ladybirds and other aphid predators, many of which are plummeting alarmingly as the Harlequins consume their prey. Despite this unwelcome and well-publicised take-over by the Eastern invaders, Harlequin ladybirds are still sold in continental Europe by biocontrol companies, and it now roams across France, Belgium and Holland, with numbers soaring annually.

Now, it is here! On Sunday 19th September 2004, Mr Ian Wright found an 'odd' ladybird in the garden of the White Lion pub, in Sible Hedingham, Essex. The ladybird was identified by Dr Michael Majerus of the Genetics Department, Cambridge University, an international ladybird expert.

Dr. Majerus, who admits to "having an inordinate fondness for ladybirds" said, "this is without doubt the ladybird I have least wanted to see here. Given its proximity in Holland, I knew it was on its way, but I hoped that it wouldn't be so soon. Now many of our ladybirds will be in direct competition with this aggressively invasive species, and some will simply not cope".

The Harlequin ladybird not only threatens other insects: in America it is also in conflict with humans. September sees many houses inundated by hundreds of thousands of these beetles seeking places to pass the winter. Harlequins also feed on fruit juices as they fuel up for the winter and fruit-growers are finding that they blemish many soft fruits, reducing the value of the crop. Indeed, so fond are they of grapes, that wineries have reported that the huge numbers of this ladybird among the harvested grapes, taint the vintage because of their acrid defensive chemicals. If this was not enough, reports of Harlequins biting people in the late summer as they run out of aphid prey, are escalating.

In North America and continental Europe, it will be difficult to control this invasive species, as numbers are already so great. However, in Britain we may still have time. Dr. Majerus urges anyone who finds this ladybird to send it to him with precise details on when and where the ladybird was found. Although highly variable in its colour and pattern, none of the forms are easily mistaken for any British ladybirds.

He says: "It is critical to monitor this ladybird now, before it gets out of control and starts to annihilate our own British ladybirds."

For more information, contact:
Michael Majerus Department of
Genetics, University of Cambridge,CB2 3EH.
Tel: 01223 356372 or 01223 276190

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UK Safari Ladybird Section
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UK Safari Creepy-Crawlies Section

  2006 G. Bradley. All Rights Reserved