I only managed to grab an hour’s walk today, once again dodging the rain showers that have been rolling in throughout the day. I thought I might blog about the wild garlic that’s covering every inch of the wilder areas in Penarth’s Alexandra Park but decided it would be better to wait until the flowers are at their peak as that would make for better photos. Then, as I was checking out the garlic and taking a few shots, my eye was caught by the number of insects sitting on their leaves, basking in the fleeting patches of sunshine, braving the weather on this mostly grey wet day. So here they are …
‘If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.’
~ E. O. Wilson (1929 – ), American biologist, environmentalist, author
I believe I may have an addiction to ladybirds! When I decided to write this post, I thought I’d just check that I hadn’t covered this topic already: of course, I knew I had written about ladybirds before but I didn’t realise quite how many times. There’s a post here and here and again here and another one here. Well, in spite of all those, here’s another one because, when I found all the Orange ladybirds pictured here within five minutes of each other yesterday, I was struck yet again by just how incredible is their transformation from egg to larva …
to pupa …
to ladybird. It really is quite miraculous!
I’m in two minds about the current trend amongst city councils to plant beds of wildflowers in local parks. I’m told that the seed mixes are often imported from Europe because they’re cheaper, so they’re not necessarily flower species that would grow naturally in the local area. It seems a token gesture on the part of councils rather than any kind of commitment to the environment. On the other hand, I can’t help but enjoy the colourful flowers, and the insects also seem to benefit from them. What do you think?
When I’m out and about on my wanders, it’s usually a preponderance of Harlequin ladybirds that I see but this day was different. Instead of Harlequins, there seemed to be beautiful little Orange ladybirds (Halyzia 16-guttata) wherever I looked. And there weren’t just adult ladybirds – almost every leaf I turned over had their larvae as well. And this was across two different parks, not just in one location.
We are constantly warned that the invasive Harlequins, first recorded in Britain in October 2004, are a serious threat to Britain’s native ladybirds, and surveys have shown that most native ladybirds are in serious decline, partly due to the Harlequin but also due to habitat loss. Perhaps the Orange ladybird is fighting back. It has apparently adapted to living on different tree species, first the sycamore and more recently the ash, so this may be aiding its apparent increase in abundance. I certainly hope so!
Don’t forget that we can’t know what’s happening with British ladybirds (or, indeed, any other living species) unless sightings are recorded. You can record yours through your local biodiversity records centre or directly with the UK Ladybird Survey website here.
If you’re on Twitter and follow one of my favourite authors, Robert Macfarlane, you’ll know that he tweets a ‘word of the day’. Yesterday’s was ‘Bishy-barnabee’, a vernacular name for the ladybird used by folk who live in the English county of Norfolk. I adore these common names – they are often old, come from a time when folk paid more attention to the natural world, observing the habits and customs of the creatures around them, or they named creatures after concepts and ideas that were important to them. Macfarlane listed other ladybird names too: cushcow, goldie-bird, red-sodger, and kingcollawa. In Fauna Britannica, Stefan Buczacki lists even more: as well as bishie barni-bee, he has bishop barnabee, bishop is burning, bishop that burneth (all from Norfolk); clock-o’clay and cow lady (from Yorkshire); God Almighty’s cow, God’s little cow and King Galowa (from Scotland); and ladycow, lady fly, lady lanners, Mary gold and sodger (from Northumberland). I’m sure there are many many more.
Here is a selection of the Bishy-barnabees I have photographed (using the mostly numerical descriptions we more commonly use these days: two 7-spots, a 14-spot, an 18-spot, a 22-spot, 3 Harlequins and an Orange).
This little Harlequin ladybird was just one of the many insects – flies and hoverflies, honey bees, bumblebees and wasps, and a Red Admiral butterfly – that were enjoying the nectar and pollen to be found on these ivy flowers, an important source of food for so many insects in the autumn months.
Just like every other insect, a ladybird goes through a complete transformation during its short, one-year life but the various stages are something I’ve only become aware of this year so I thought I’d share them with you.
Adult ladybirds spend the cold winter months in a dormant state, awakening in the springtime as the weather begins to warm up. After munching away on some aphids to get their juices flowing again, they look for a member of the opposite sex and mate. I don’t have any egg photos but they are, apparently, bright yellow and are laid on the underside of leaves. Once the mating and egg-laying are complete, the adult ladybirds die.
Depending on the temperature and weather conditions, the eggs hatch after 3 to 10 days and the little larvae immediately begin eating: scale insects and aphids are their favourites so you can see why gardeners love them. At this stage, they look nothing at all like ladybirds, though they do have unique patterns – left and centre above are Harlequins (Harmonia axyridis) and the one on the right is an Orange (Halyzia 16-punctata).
After 3 to 4 weeks of constant eating, the larvae pupate, shedding their larval skin and changing into this strange-looking blob you can find attached to the tops of leaves. The metamorphosis from larvae to adult ladybird only takes 7 to 10 days – a miracle really!
When the adult ladybird first emerges from its pupa, it is very pale and takes a little while for its final colours to show, though you can usually see traces of its spots. And that’s it! The adult will trundle around the leaves, eating all those pesky aphids until the winter months come, and the whole process will begin all over again.