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After last week’s excitement about the ladybird party on the BBC allotment, I was delighted to learn that the UK Ladybird Survey had a stand at this year’s Gardeners’ World Live.
There’s always a few wildlife charities at the show and each year I spend most of my time talking to various organisations about how we can fill Gardeners’ World magazine wildlife pages over the next few months. The RSPB is usually there, but other charities appear sporadically, so there’s someone new for me to talk to each time I visit.
This year was the UK Ladybird Survey’s first visit to Gardeners’ World Live. It was a busy stand, but that’s not surprising – live bugs are a great way to attract hordes of people to your patch. The organisation was there to encourage people to take part in its ladybird surveys and help map the spread of the harlequin ladybird over the UK.
The harlequin first came over to the UK in 2003. It was an inevitable invasion: a native of Asia, it was being used for biological control of aphids in the United States and Europe. It was free to breed and spread over the continents and eventually all it needed to do was hop over the Channel to the UK. So it did.
First spotted in Essex, the harlequin is now virtually everywhere, except for more rural parts of Scotland and Ireland. The harlequin is a hungry ladybird, and it’s thought that it may be affecting populations of our native species by eating them and their food. But there’s still a lot to learn: two-spot ladybirds have decreased in number since the arrival of the harlequin, while seven-spot populations have remained stable. And it’s not just native ladybirds at risk: harlequins also eat moth eggs and lacewings. What else do they eat?
The problem with harlequin ladybirds is that, to the untrained eye, they are not that easy to identify. This means we can’t just squish them in order to save our native species (and squishing is a bit cruel – it’s not their fault they came over). The harlequin comes in many different colour forms, many of them looking like some of our rarer species. How can we be sure we’re not squishing our own?
The UK Ladybird Survey has just published a ladybird atlas, which includes photos of many species in larvae, pupae and adult form. It also has maps of harlequin sightings across the UK and Ireland, which chart their spread since they first arrived. There are a few gaps, though, especially in Scotland and Ireland. So, if you’ve seen harlequins in your garden, log on to UK Ladybird Survey to see if they have been recorded in your area and add your sighting.
Your data will help the survey monitor populations of harlequin and native species, so we can find out what damage the harlequin is doing to our native wildlife and what, if anything, can be done to stop it.
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