ladybirds hibernating Copford

While visiting our Clients’ Gardens over the past few months, we have noticed large numbers of Ladybirds hibernating in the branch unions of garden shrubs – many more than we have seen in previous years.  This bodes well for the Summer!  These Adult ladybirds will emerge in spring ready to mate and produce the next generation of ladybirds eager to munch on aphids and blackfly!

Ladybirds are very much the Gardener’s friend – as well as eating aphids and black fly they are also great pollinators, particularly liking the pollen of lavender, scented geraniums and marigolds.

Here at BAA Groundcare, we have been trying very hard not to disturb the hibernating ladybirds wherever possible, however last week we did urgently need to prune a shrub that had collapsed across a path as a result of recent strong winds – unfortunately there were many of these very important aphid munching insects present.  This resulted in a search of the internet to see how we could carefully remove them, without interrupting their winter slumber! We were amazed by the amount of information on Ladybirds that can be found on the World Wide Web!

As you would expect, an excellent site for information is the Natural History Museum   www.nhm.ac.uk and on this website we came across instructions for building an insect hotel using pine-cones, a few twigs and leaves, and some old roof tiles to keep the rain off.  We built one of these and carefully cut the branches containing the ladybirds and transferred them to their new hotel.  We are monitoring the hotel to see if it works.

A completed ladybird lodge insect hotel, with a sign added for decoration www.nhm.ac.uk

     Life Cycle of a Ladybird (courtesy of the UK Ladybird Survey)

  • October-February: Adult ladybirds spend winter in a dormant state, known as ‘overwintering’.
  • March-April: Adult ladybirds become active and leave their overwintering sites to find food.
  • May: Male and female ladybirds mate.
  • June-July: Mated females lay eggs which hatch into immature stages called ‘larvae’ which pass through four instars (stages) and then form ‘pupae’.
  • August: The new generation of adult ladybirds emerge from the pupae.
  • September: These new adults feed but do not mate until next spring after they have overwintered

Fascinating Facts about Ladybirds

  • The collective name for ladybirds is the Coccinellidae, which has its origins in the Latin word coccineus meaning ‘scarlet’.
  • The word ‘Ladybird’ is thought to have been inspired by early images of the Virgin Mary who would appear wearing a red cloak.
  • The number of spots on a ladybird indicates what species it belongs to, not, as commonly believed, how old it is.
  • The most common ladybird in the UK is the 7 Spot Ladybird – which is red with 7 black spots (of course!)
  • There are believed to be 47 different ladybird species in the UK
  • Not all ladybirds are red with black spots. Ladybirds can be yellow, orange, brown or red with black, white or red spots. Some even have stripes instead of spots!
  • The Harlequin Ladybird is the most invasive ladybird in the world and is rapidly killing the other species. This ladybird has many different appearances and includes black with red spots and orange with white spots.
  • Ladybirds hibernate (or ‘overwinter’) from October all the way through to February.
  • Females lay up to 50 eggs on the underside of a leaf, close to a food source.  
  • The eggs are orange or yellow and approximately 1mm in length. 
  • Eggs hatch within 10 days and larvae feed on the unhatched eggs of aphids 
  • When attacked, a ladybird will give out small drops of a yellow, unpleasant tasting fluid. Birds then associate the bright colour with a bad taste and therefore leave them alone.
  • An adult ladybird can live for between 1 and 3 years.