by Richard Jones

A bit of garden clearance in the rain is always therapeutic. Working off a good lunch and feeling the drip of water down my neck, I feel my endeavours are all the more noble.

Four orange ladybirds - Halyzia sedecimguttataA bit of garden clearance in the rain is always therapeutic. Working off a good lunch and feeling the drip of water down my neck, I feel my endeavours are all the more noble. Actually all I'm doing is ripping the vine out of the apple tree it's been trying to smother for the last two years. Like the vine mentioned in Adam's blog, it's a Vitis coignetiae, or crimson glory vine. The cultivar in our garden is 'Claret Cloak', and beautiful though it is, it's gone too far and needs cutting back. The tree isn't very old, it's not more than 20cm in diameter at the base, but the bark is rough and gnarled enough to provide the odd nook and cranny for overwintering ladybirds.

Surprisingly, these are not the recent alien invader Harmonia axyridis, the harlequin ladybird, although they were common enough in the garden during last summer. These are the orange ladybird, Halyzia sedecimguttata.

The first time I found this pretty beetle, in a West Sussex woodland, about 30 years ago, I was quite excited. It was then regarded as quite a scarce species, associated with ancient broadleaved woodlands, and especially with old beech trees. But in the last quarter century it has changed its status dramatically. The attachment to beech trees was supposedly because it fed on mildew on the leaves, it being one of the several mould-feeding ladybirds rather than the aphid-eating species. Nowadays it is most usually found on sycamore and lime trees and is much more abundant than ever before, especially in urban areas.

It has a habit of clustering together in small knots over the winter; the photograph here shows four I found snuggling down on a carved stone angel in Nunhead Cemetery a few years ago. The early arrivers give off a 'safety' pheromone (chemical scent) which attracts others to gather around them. The idea is that their warning colours are emphasized by the increasing numbers. The scent lingers throughout the summer so the same crevices are used year on year by subsequent generations. Very clever.

A cluster of 16-spot ladybirds - Tytthaspis sedimpunctataAnother ladybird that is regularly found overwintering in gardens is the 16-spot, Tytthaspis sedimpunctata, another mildew feeder. A couple of years ago these were very common clustered at the bottom of the featheredge fence slats, but this year there don't seem to be any. I'm wondering whether this species has a safety pheromone or not. My pictures show them settled on dead leaves and stems. These are unlikely to be around for another year, so maybe this species finds new hibernation sites from scratch each year.

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Talkback: Ladybirds
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Gardeners' World Web User 05/12/2008 at 17:50

I don't know anything about ladybirds but every December I get ladybirds appearing in my bathroom. Yesterday I again found my first - is this normal? I've no idea where they come from or how they get in.

Gardeners' World Web User 12/12/2008 at 11:01

Wildething - Your ladybirds are looking for a warm place to hibernate. They come into our houses via air vents, open doors & windows or down the chimney. Often in great numbers but unniticed. As the temperature rises in the Spring they will wake up & find their way out again. Flys do the same thing & can be a problem when they seem to suddenly appear from nowere & cluster around window frames. When the central heating is turned up they are tricked into thinking that Spring has arrived & leave the chimney where they were hibinating.

Gardeners' World Web User 28/11/2011 at 18:37

Making the ladybirds a home last winter paid off on the allotment. We had an abundance of lady birds and lady bird larvae. I made some staging out of some old wood and there they where, snuggled down in the grooves. I plan to do the same thing for them every year and encourage others to do the same. Bamboos nuzzled together in an old pipe work fine.