We love wildlife and try to encourage it into our garden smallholding as best we can. We are always looking into new projects and ideas to increase wildlife and insect activity as much as possible, in particular butterflies.
We first encountered the Harlequin ladybird at our garden smallholding in the summer of this year. Due to the sheer size of them ( see photos taken by Karen) we decided to learn a little more about them. We were quite shocked at our findings:
They are in fact ‘alien’ ladybirds, threatening the existence of our native ladybirds, which of course is not good news. The Harlequin ladybird is also a deadly threat to many other insects, including butterflies and lacewings. They are extremely voracious predators that easily out compete native ladybirds for food. They are so successful that while native ladybird numbers dwindle the Harlequin ladybird flourishes. When their preferred food of aphids and scale insects are not available, the Harlequin readily preys on native ladybirds and other insects such as butterfly eggs, caterpillars and lacewing larvae.
The harlequin ladybird originates from Asia and was introduced to North America in 1988 for biological control of aphids on crops. It is now the most widespread ladybird species on the continent. It has already invaded much of northwestern Europe, and arrived in Britain during the summer of 2004.
Most commonly found on deciduous trees, such as lime, sycamore and maple, and on low growing plants such as nettles. They are also partial to sugary fruits such as pears, and nectar from flowers.
Butterflies are having a rough time of it due to the past few wet summers, butterflies cannot fly in wet weather which means they cannot feed or mate. We have planted various butterfly friendly shrubs and flowers to help them right through till the autumn, we are considering getting butterfly and insect houses ( do a google search, they do exist! ) to give butterflies and pollinating insects somewhere warm and dry to hibernate. We also leave clumps of certain weeds such as nettles for example in the borders, these are host plants needed by certain species of butterfly on which to lay their eggs so the caterpillars can feed.
We don’t know what to make of this alien invasion. Have you found any in your garden?