These colourful little beetles are present year-round, but throughout this season you might notice them moving around more before they hibernate. There are close to 50 species of ladybird in Britain, meaning there are plenty of types to look out for this autumn.
The two species of ladybird that you are most likely to see around your garden or local park are the two-spot and seven-spot ladybirds. One of their favourite foods is aphids, making them a real gardener’s friend. Natural pest controllers like ladybirds should be encouraged in the garden and you can help them by quitting chemical pesticides. The beetles need to be well-fed, ready to wait out the winter when their food sources aren’t available. If they hibernate it might be months before their next meal!
Ladybirds will become inactive in the cold winter, and sometimes they group together for warmth. The dropping temperatures bring many of them indoors, as they get into the crevices by window frames or in the folds of curtains or blinds. Heated homes are not the best place for hibernating ladybirds. If you come across one sheltering indoors, it is best to remove it on a dry day and place it somewhere sheltered outside, such as under a hedge. They will naturally wake up in the spring, from March onwards.
Sadly, ladybirds in Britain are threatened by an invasive species – the harlequin ladybird. These invaders were first recorded in the UK in 2004 and have spread rapidly since then. To make things more difficult, harlequin ladybirds are very variable in appearance so they can be tricky to tell apart from our native species. If your ladybird is less than 5mm it is not a harlequin, and those with a very clear seven black spots on a red background are native 7-spot ladybirds. Initial research and data from the National Ladybird Survey have shown that harlequin ladybirds are likely to be causing declines in native species. If you are interested in helping to record ladybirds, monitoring the spread of invasive harlequin species, visit www.coleoptera.org.uk
A ladybird box could help provide somewhere safe and cosy for these little insects to hibernate, and it’s simple to build your own. All you need are hollow tubes like bamboo canes or twigs within a frame, giving the beetles somewhere to hide away from the cold winter.