Below are ladybirds, these belong to the Coccinellidae family. There are 4500 species world wide, and around 47 native in the U. K. plus a few occasional visitors, and 27 species in Ireland, and most have the characteristic round shape. They range in length from 1 - 15 mm. The antennae are short and end in a club.
Most ladybirds in the U. K. have an annual life cycle. They overwinter as adults, and mate in late spring. The eggs are laid soon after mating, and hatch in early summer, and for the next few weeks the larvae eat and eat and eat. Then they pupate, and emerge as adults in late summer.
Some species, e. g. the 2-spot and 14-spot, can manage twp generations in a year, and Harlequins have been known to manage three!
The eggs are a long, oval shape, and range in colour from light yellow to deep orange. The females lay the eggs on plants - usually on the underside of leaves, and as a newly hatched ladybird larva can survive for only 60 hours without food, the egg must be laid near their food - usually aphids or their relatives. The females lay batches of 3 - 50 eggs. Normally a female can lay 100 - 200 eggs in her lifetime. Earwigs are predators of ladybird eggs.
The larvae (see generalised drawing below) on hatching eat their egg shell, and may even eat any unhatched eggs. After this they search for food, and they usually do not have far to look as their mother always lays her eggs where there will be sufficient food within easy reach. The larvae moult three times before pupating. Most adults and larvae (see the drawing below right) are carnivorous, though there are a few herbivorous species. Each larva will eat hundreds of aphids in its life. Both adults and larvae are now sold as biological control agents. An Australian ladybird, Rodolina cardinalis, was introduced to California to control the cottony cushion scale insect, a bug, that was a pest on the citrus crop.
On emerging as adults the elytra (wing case) will not take on the true adult colours for several hours, and during this time the exoskeleton hardens. The dark colours come from melanins, and the light colours and reds from carotenes. The bright colouration of both adults and larvae is a warning to predators that they taste foul! This is termedaposematic colouring.
In the U. K. ladybirds overwinter as adults in a sheltered spot. Some gather in groups, and some form very large groups called aggregations. These aggregations can contain more than one species, and some aggregation sites are used year after year.
Normally ladybirds have no special courtship behaviours. If the female finds the male acceptable, they just get on with it. However, if she does not find him acceptable, and cannot simply run away as he may have a tight grip, she will raise her abdomen to try and make him lose his footing, kick him, or roll over on top of him. If all of this fails she will climb up higher and jump off to try to fly.
Right is a drawing of a typical Coccinellidae larva. They are short and fat. They body has numerous tubercles and spines. The colours are brown, blue-black with yellow. Their legs are long and they are usually found on plants and trees in batches of 10 - 50 near their aphid prey. They pupate on leaves attached by their tail.
When a ladybird feels threatened it will draw in its legs under its body where they fit perfectly into grooves. Then it will clamp itself down onto the leaf of whatever surface it is on. The upper body is hard and smooth, and so difficult for a predator to get a grip of. Along with many other insects the ladybird can reflex bleed, this means it exudes a foul tasting yellow/brown liquid. This will also deter some predators. However, despite their warning colouration and defensive behaviour, ladybirds do get eaten. The main predators are spiders, birds and other insects. Parasitic flies also lay their eggs on or in ladybirds.
Where did the ladybird get its name?
There are a number of possible answers to this question.
1) In medieval times the red body reminded people of the red cloak worn by the Virgin Mary in paintings. Remember this was a time when there were few visual images.
2) The seven spots on the very common 7 spot ladybird were said to represent the Virgin mary's 7 joys and 7 sorrows. And put this with 3 below.
3) Ladybirds can fly so "Our lady's bird.
7 spot (Coccinellidae septempunctata)
The 7 spot is widespread throughout the UK. The ladybird near the top of the page has normal colouration of a 7 spot (Coccinellidae septempunctata). The one on the right has melanic colouration. This type of dark colouration is not so unusual, and is linked to the genes of the beetle. It is believed that in colder areas the dark colouration may be an advantage because it will enable the beetle to warm up more quickly. Also in this species the spot number can vary from 0 - 9, but 7 is by far the commonest.
Adults range in length from 6 - 8 mm. And larvae are up to 10 - 12 mm long. Both pupae and larvae are grey and black with orange splotches. And can be found on a wide variety of plants.
Adults often overwinter together in huge numbers as this conserves warmth.
Orange ladybird, Halyzia 16 guttata
Above is the Orange ladybird, Halyzia 16 guttata. This ladybird is unusual in the it feeds on mildew on the undersides of the leaves of deciduous trees, although its secondary food is aphids. The spots can be white or creamy-yellow, and the number can vary from 12 - 16.
It overwinters in leaf litter, on trees (especially sycamore), and also underground. Its eggs are off-white - pale lemon yellow and laid in batches of up to 24 on leaves. I found this one injured and clinging to the side of a gate into the woods.
Propylea 14-punctata, Propylea quaturodecimpunctata, the 14 spot ladybird
The 14 spot ladybird, on the left, is yellow with black spots, and it has orange legs. It is found throughout the UK, although less common towards the north, and fairly uncommon in Scotland. Its distribution has decreased since 1990. The spots can be joined up, and very varied in pattern, but tend to be more rectangular than round. There is a dark variety of this species where the background is black and the spots are yellow. The spot number can vary from 4 - 14. Adults are 3.5 - 4.5 mm long, and are found from April - September. It is found on a wide variety of plants, but usually low growing ones, or lower down on taller plants.
14-spot larvae will die if they do not feed for 36 hours.
The 10 spot ladybird, Adalia 10-punctata has orange/yellowish coloured legs and antennae, but the spot pattern is varied, as is the background colour. In fact the 10-spot has over 40 different names mainly because it has so many different colour patterns, leading taxonomists to believe they were describing different species.
Adult body length is 3.5 - 5. 0 mm. It is found throughout the Palaearctic region. In the U. K. it is usually found on deciduous trees, in meadows and gardens, and is common. The adults are commonly seen from May - October.