Save our ladybirds!

The harlequin ladybird first crawled into our living rooms in the winter of 2004, and has been racing its way across the UK ever since. The species outcompetes (and cannibalises) native ladybird species, causes allergic reactions in humans, and can even bite us – making this one of the most irritating pests to grace the shores of the UK for years.

Photo by Jessica Fisher... special thanks to Ruth Jeavons for keeping these dead ones safe in a match box for me!

Photo by me… special thanks to Ruth Jeavons for keeping these dead ones safe in a match box for me! 

Native to Asia, the Harlequin was originally used in the USA and Europe as a biological control agent (a ‘natural’ alternative to pesticides); the species was reintroduced so often that eventually it managed to reproduce amongst itself and establish populations outside of the target farms and fields. The ladybird spread wildly across both continents, and eventually was brought into the UK amongst flowers imported from the Netherlands in 2004.

Since it’s first discovery, the Harlequin – named for the huge variety of colour variations it possesses, making identification very difficult – has spread as far as North Yorkshire. Causing copious responses in the news, and a social networking furore as people began to notice clustering swarms of ‘overwintering’ ladybirds in their living rooms, the Harlequin has a notorious reputation in the UK.

A few smart individuals were fully aware of the threats the Harlequin brought, and set up the Harlequin Ladybird Survey in 2004 to monitor the spread of the species across the UK. Luckily, (my dissertation research) has shown that the species spread is hugely slowing down in it’s spread – it’s possibly limited by ecological constraints or the weather up North!  But if you see any of these aggressive creatures around, be sure to identify them using the simple methods posted on the Harlequin Survey Site, and notify them for the record!