Wednesday 9 January 2013


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Ladybirds are small, brightly coloured beetles, often seen on green plants in large numbers eating their way through colonies of greenfly. They are also referred to as ladybugs in some parts of the world, but the term ladybird is preferred by entomologists as they are not true bugs. They are seen as good neighbours by gardeners and farmers, and are often actively encouraged to aid pest control.

Ladybirds are small insects ranging from 1-10 mm long and come in a wide range of bright colours and patterns. These patterns, usually black or orange or yellow, are known as warning colouration because they warn enemies of the insects unpleasant taste. If attacked, a ladybird defends itself by reflex bleeding, oozing blood from its leg joints. This blood contains unpleasant substance called coccinelline, which repels ants and most birds.

Ladybirds tend to be abundant in the temperate climate of Europe and North America, although they are found in most parts of the world. There are 88 species of ladybirds in central and northern Europe, and 43 species in Britain alone. Most European ladybirds are found in their largest numbers in habitats that have been changed by man, such as forestry plantation, neglected gardens, waste areas full of weeds and nettle-beds. This is because their primary source of food, aphids, habit these areas.

Most ladybirds feed almost exclusively on aphids (also known as greenfly of black fly). Aphids are slow-moving and defenceless insects found feeding on many garden plants and trees. Ladybird larvae have a huge appetite and eat more aphids than the adult insects, up to 40 aphids a day. If the supply of aphids runs low then they will start to eat other, smaller ladybird larvae.

Ladybirds have a lifespan of approximately 2 years. The whole lifecycle of the ladybirds takes from four to seven weeks, so several generations can be produced in one summer. Most ladybirds mate in the spring of summer. The female lays a cluster of between 3-300 eggs (depending on species). These are laid in batches, usually as near as possible to colonies of aphids. Typically the eggs hatch in five to eight days and pupate 10-15 days, usually in quite an exposed spot.

Ladybirds can be found at any time of year, but they are cold blooded and hibernate in winter. The best way to find a ladybird is to wait for their active period during the warmer months and look for plants which aphids commonly feed on such as roses, sherry trees and broad bean plants. A close inspection of these may reveal clusters of orange ladybird eggs. In the British isles the most common larger species of ladybird, the seven spot coccinella 7-punctata, often hibernates in the open, fully exposed to view.

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