‘’Ladybirds, ladybird everywhere!’’ and ‘’We are under attack!’’ are some reactions from the public about the ongoing invasion of the Harlequinn ladybird. It is thought that this is a recent problem but we have been facing this problem for some time now, every year the media publishes people’s reactions to this. Insects, colonizing everywhere on the planet except the sea, are the most dominant class on invertebrates on the planet. With this amazing triumph can come consequences, because of their ability to spread to different places very quickly, they can be seen as invasive when they arrive somewhere they aren’t welcome. Harmonia axyridis, the Harlequinn ladybird, named Harlequinn because of its variety of bright colourations and patterns is an invasive species causing a spot of concern in the world and in the last 10 years has become a growing concern for the United Kingdom. They can spread at an alarming rate of 100km a year which is much faster than the spread of grey squirrels in the UK. With this article, I hope to show you how to identify invasive species, tell you how quickly they can spread, how they are impacting our resident species and hopefully explain the truth about them carrying STI’s and offer my personal opinion on the situation.
This species of ladybird is the most invasive species of ladybird on the planet, its introduction from Asia into North America in 1988 was done to try and control aphid numbers. However, this resulted in its spread through north west Europe and arrived in the United Kingdom in 2004. It was discovered upon their introduction that they will not only eat aphids but will have a feast on native ladybird’s larvae as well. It was recorded being seen in Norfolk and Essex following this event. So how do you identify one of these beasties?
Trying to tell the difference between invasive and native species is very complicated as there are so many different types of lady birds, it recalls the feeling of frustration I would get when I was young, playing spot the difference with my older brother. Learning these differences is key!
Yes, this species is here, and they are here to stay, so what else can we do? We can learn how fast they are spreading by taking part in the UK ladybird survey, YOU can take part in this survey in your own home by visiting http://www.ladybird-survey.org/. This will provide you with ways of telling the difference between the two groups and will aid you in having a healthier and happier wildlife friendly home!
The group of people running this have developed great ways of dealing with these garden pests and using data people like you have recorded, can provide really interesting maps of distribution like this one.
Sightings of the invasive species allow us to create images like these to present seriousness of spread that they can have. What does this mean for the invasion? Well, since their appearance in Norfolk in 2004 they have taken no time to relax but instead to breed and spread through the UK causing a nightmare for crops in their wake. A trail of destruction which is referred to as following a trail of breadcrumbs by farmers can be followed like a forest fire. During the invasion they have come across well-known people within the United Kingdom such as Gary Lineker, fortunately he survived the ‘’attack’’ and wasted no time letting his followers know about his experience.
Fun fact, the collective noun of ladybirds is called a loveliness of ladybirds!
So why are they causing such a stir in the media and why are they causing a lot of problems? With 40 resident species of ladybird already in the UK excluding non-native, the arrival of Harlequin ladybirds has had a negative effect on them. Ladybird species are highly predatory, this one eats aphids and other ladybirds, including their eggs. I recently learnt that they are also effecting more than 1000 other British insect species as well!
The media is very quick to state they carry STD’s which is true, they carry a fungal disease called Laboulbeniales fungal disease. Very little is known about this disease apart from its transmission, it doesn’t infect people but infects insects.
With approximately 2000 non-native species in this country, only a small portion effect biodiversity. The Harlequinn is slowly moving our native species out of their native habitat and taking over. So what now, what can we do and what can you take home from this?
Currently we know nothing about stopping their spread but through public monitoring and further research into ladybird ecology we can use them as a model species to plan for future invasions of other species. With great power comes great responsibility, we must understand the consequences of moving species around the globe.
Why not go into your garden, see what there is, you might be surprised by what you find?
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