The Joy of Coccinellidae

Or ladybirds to you and me….

A few weeks ago, when we had one of the first sunny weekends of the year, I took the children to one of our local ‘country’ parks for a run around. First of all we had a little picnic during which the children spotted a few horses in the next field. Of course the next question was “Can we go and give them some grass?”. Who was I to say no, especially when it did take quite a lot of bravery on the part of the Middle Miss.

Next we hit the playground but Son Number One was hankering after a walk through the more ‘country’ part of the park so off we went through the gate…

We hadn’t walked far when I spotted this:

At least three ladybirds on a little mossy stump. Their red wing cases really stood out against the green moss. Soon we were spotting a new ladybird with almost every step. I don’t really know much ladybird biology but I suspect the heat of the spring sunshine had woken them up. Some of them seemed to be getting a bit frisky.

Of course, the children loved putting them on their hand and watching them crawl about…..

and ulitimately fly off….

Why is it that we are happy to let a ladybird do that but we squirm at the thought of a spider doing the same thing? House spiders must surely be as useful as ladybirds by keeping the fly population down? I say ‘we’ but my big boy is no arachnophobe….

He was very taken with this spider and the colourful marking on it’s abdomen.

Anyway, I was going to post something about our afternoon out finding ladybirds (in ‘ladybird paradise’ as the place was named by Son Number One) but it didn’t end quite as idyllically as it started. There was quite a lot of grumpy-ness and shouting towards the end of it so I stored the photos for a later date.

Last week a new blog post arrived in my in-box from ‘Jane of the Garden’ (you can see the link to her blog, ‘Trouble in the Garden’ on my sidebar to the right). Now I always enjoy Jane’s posts, whether they are written from the point of view of the slugs in her garden of whether they are her own thoughts. I find them to be very poetic, though I am certainly no expert. I have asked permission to share her thoughts on Ladybirds as I think they are beautifully written:

“This winter I have learned the hidden merits of Berberis.  Hidden beneath its overcoat of leaf and thorn I have found scores of ladybirds in residence – and survivors of the great cold

I still feel a childish pleasure when I find one – its half-centimetre of being exuding an absoluteness of ladybird: so vivid, so red, so black, so certainly ladybird.  So difficult to imagine the life of a ladybird: how does it know its way through the huge forest of a clump of grass or a swag of ivy?  What gives it pleasure and satisfaction in life?  What does it feel when I come along with my pruning saw and fell its winter home? Is it resigned to its lot as a powerless ladybird?  Does it grow hot with anger?  Does it wonder about its own sanity when it discovers that what it thought was there has vanished?  Does it perceive its frail hold on life?

Does it sense its own charm?  Does it feel a trifle theatrical in its black and red ensemble when it treads the green jungles of the garden?  Does it long to find the camouflage of an equally flamboyant poppy?”

See, I told you it was good.

As I was starting to write this post I had to do a little search to find the correct, latin name for the ladybird family. I found myself at the Natural History Museum website where I found the following…

Ladybird fun facts:

  • There are 46 species from the ladybird family (Coccinellidae) in Britain.
  • Ladybirds are named after Our Lady, the Virgin Mary. The red colour is said to represent the red cloak Mary was depicted wearing in old paintings. The seven spots are for her seven joys and seven sorrows.
  • The bright colours of ladybirds have evolved to act as a warning mechanism. Ladybirds are unpalatable to most predators and the warning colours advertise this.
  • There are over 5,000 species of ladybirds all over the world but only 46 in Britain. Some of these are very small and not readily recognisable. There are only 27 that are likely to be found and easily recognised as ladybirds.

There was also some information about a survey to find Harlequin Ladybirds, a non-native species that threatens to outcompete our resident bugs. Perhaps we should all be doing a bit of ladybird spotting and, more importantly, recording in order to help science save one of our favourite creatures. We don’t want the humble ladybird, one of childhood’s favourite creatures, to go the same way the red squirrel has.

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