Hibernating ladybirds

Posted: Wednesday 5 November 2014
by Richard Jones

It’s that time of year when people start complaining of the harlequin ladybirds coming indoors. What are they doing? Where are they going?

14-spot ladybirds mating

It’s that time of year when people start complaining of the harlequin ladybirds traipsing across the ceiling of the conservatory, or the spare room. What are they doing? Where are they going?

They’re going to bed, and they're smelling their way.
The ladybirds are searching out the hibernation sites of their parents or grandparents, seeking out the species-specific chemical safety pheromone laid down by previous generations when they snuggled down for the winter last year. In theory they can return (collectively, of course, not individually because each ladybird only lives a few months) to the same refuges year on year, re-stocking the lingering scent that will attract further generations in the future.
But they’re not doing it in our sun-room. (We still call it that, even though it sounds a bit bourgeois, after the estate agent’s blurb so amused us when we bought the house.) The small first-floor room, at the end of the house, over the kitchen, has glass down two sides, faces south-east and does, indeed, catch the sun. And for several years the harlequins loved it. We were forever chasing hordes of them out through the windows.
But 2014 was a bad year for East Dulwich harlequins. There were none on the ivy during spring, nor in the clematis in summer. Nary a one in the apple tree either. Instead we’ve had a solid trail of 7-spots through the garden; oh, and 16-spots, and 14-spots (shown in the pic above).
I’m not entirely sure what’s been going on. Plenty of other South London harlequin reservoirs are still bursting with them: Nunhead Cemetery, Peckham Rye, Dulwich Park were awash with them all year.
Clearly the invasion of harlequins has continued through Britain, as shown on the yearly distribution maps of the Harlequin Ladybird Survey, but this has not meant an inexorable rise and rise in harlequin numbers everywhere, all of the time. The decline in my garden is a small-scale anecdotal reduction, but I’m pretty certain it’s genuine, not just me ignoring or overlooking them.
So now I’m wondering what will happen in 2015. With none in our sun-room to over-winter, there will be none in the garden next year to start the next generation. We might have to be invaded again, from the Rye perhaps. More research is necessary. I’ll just have to keep watching.

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sterelitza 06/11/2014 at 18:03

Hi, we had a really sunny day here in Carmarthenshire last week which showed up how dirty the windows were, I decided to go outside to clean them, I saw several ladybirds on the window frames, they were more orange than red and I wondered what they were doing just basking in the sun.

Tootles 06/11/2014 at 18:45

i reckon they must be doing what us humans have been doing and making the most of the warm weather. I wonder if they've scarpered home now? It was Baltic today!

Dave Morgan 06/11/2014 at 19:58

It's pre hibernation behaviour. They make the most of the last warmth in the sun before going to sleep. Provide a place where they can keep frost free over winter. A garden shed is ideal.

chicky 06/11/2014 at 20:28

Inside our windowframes seems ideal - we get a shower of them everytime we open a window

sterelitza 07/11/2014 at 08:31

Thanks for all the information, I often wonder where these pretty and useful little creatures vanish to in the winter. I will treat them kindly in future and try to find a space in the shed for them. Should I just leave them on the workbench to find their own cosy corner to sleep in and will the spiders already in residence leave them alone?

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