January and February should be a quiet time for ladybirds- these graceful creatures are supposed to disappear from human view as they hibernate in readiness for the arrival of spring.
However, this winter has seen ladybirds appear in national newspapers for two very different reasons.
The first ladybird-related story concerned the species’ amazing resilience to an unexpected cold snap of weather in the middle of mild weather conditions.
The second story is related to concerns about most species’ resistance to a new breed of ‘cannibal’ ladybird (take a look at the ten ladybird facts below for further details).
There are lots of bug and insect-related arts and crafts featuring ladybirds – making items such as ladybird necklace coin purses, insect gliders and bug sand art decorations is enormous fun in the classroom. It’s no surprise that these colourful insect provide great inspiration for children’s craft ideas.
Kids will love to learn a little about ladybirds before they embark on such projects.
Below is a list of ten interesting ladybird facts – you can find out much more about UK ladybirds by visiting the UK Ladybirds Survey website.
- The name ladybird comes from Britain and is a reference to the fact that the Virgin Mary (Our Lady) was shown wearing a red cloak in early paintings (a shade which matches the red of many ladybirds). The spots of the seven-spotted ladybird are said to symbolise her seven joys and seven sorrows. The ladybird could have ended up with a less pretty name; they used to be referred to as ‘lady cows’!
- Ladybirds should actually be classified as beetles – they are usually round or oval and generally have short legs that are retractable under the body.
- These colourful beetles’ hibernation is slightly different to that of mammals; the cold weather sees them ‘over-wintering’ – dormant on cold days and taking in a little water and basking on sunnier winter days. They can withstand sub-zero temperatures as the photos of frost-covered ladybirds in the national press recently demonstrated.
- March is the time when ladybirds fully emerge after their period of over-wintering; male and female ladybirds mate in May and the next generation enter the world in August.
- There are 26 species of ladybird which are recognised by the UK Ladybird Survey as being resident in Britain. Species such as the Orange ladybird and the 24-spot ladybird are on the increase, while the population of the 22-spot and the exotically-named Hieroglyphic ladybird are on the decrease.
- Ladybirds can be found in habitats such as trees, meadows, hedgerows, near ant nests and, in the case of the Water ladybird, can be found in reed-beds and wetlands.
- The diet of the ladybirds varies between species –the 24-spot snacks on leaves; the Hieroglyphic has an appetite for the larvae of the heather leaf beetle; the 16-spot favours pollen and nectar while many other species value aphids.
- Ladybirds’ bright colours aren’t just there to please the human eye – they warn potential predators of how distasteful they are to eat. Birds and spiders which ignore this warning often get their comeuppance when they taste the toxic yellow blood which a ladybird exudes when it is attacked. Swallows and swifts have developed immunity to this toxin and wasps and flies can kill ladybird too.
- The Harlequin ladybird was introduced to the south-east of England in the summer of 2004; originally as a form of pest control (it eats greenfly). The trouble is it also eats many other species of ladybird and threatens to do to other species what the grey squirrel has done to the red squirrel. They have already wiped out 30 per cent of Britain’s two-spotted species and have been sighted as far north as the Orkney Islands. And they could be closer to you than you think – they like to find their way into houses where they leave a noxious yellow stain on curtains and furniture. Experts warn you to approach with caution – their bite can produce an allergic reaction.
- The threat posed by the Harlequin is one of the reasons why the UK Ladybird survey wants members of the public to record sightings of ladybirds so that these spotted creatures don’t become lesser-spotted on our shores. Download-able ladybird identification sheets can help people with this task and provide a great test of adults (and kids’) powers of observation!