Orange ladybirds

Posted: Friday 18 January 2013
by Kate Bradbury

Recently I met a very special species indeed: an orange ladybird. It was hibernating in a pine tree in my local park. What a find.

Orange ladybirds on a tree trunk

My interest in ladybirds has grown considerably over the last couple of years. As well as being able to tell a two-spot from a seven-spot, I can now comfortably identify less well-known species such as the 14-spot and 10-spot, along with the many guises of the harlequin.

I met my first pine ladybird last spring, thanks to a heavy gust of wind blowing it out of a tree on to the pavement I was walking along, and I once found the larvae of tiny Scymnus frontalis (which somehow resembled Dougal the dog from The Magic Roundabout) tucking into a blackfly colony on my runner beans. Most recently I met a very special species indeed: an orange ladybird. It was hibernating in a pine tree in my local park. What a find.

The orange ladybird is only special to me because it’s beautiful and I’d never seen one before. It’s not particularly rare and it doesn’t even eat aphids – sorry gardeners. But it’s recently adapted its habitat and is becoming more widespread.

At 4.5-6mm long it’s roughly the same size as the harlequin, and is orange with white spots. It has orange legs and its crocodile-like larva is yellow with black spots. It was once considered an indicator of ancient woodland, but is now expanding its range into habitats like London parks, where I found mine.

The orange ladybird eats the mildew on leaves of deciduous trees, particularly sycamore. It appears to be becoming more abundant and is likely to have had a good 2012 due to all the rain (and therefore mildew). However, like the native two-spot, its success is threatened by the harlequin. It’s thought that when aphids disappear in autumn, harlequin larvae switch to eating the larvae of orange ladybirds, which are still in the trees, munching mildew.

January might not seem like the most obvious time to go looking for ladybirds, but if you have the inclination, why not investigate the branches of a pine tree in your garden or local park? Sheltered spots where the branches meet the main trunk are a good place to start. Whatever you find, do take two minutes to record your sighting on the UK Ladybirds website, as this helps experts map distribution trends and establish what effect the harlequin has on native populations. And you never know, you might uncover something really special.

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flowering rose 20/01/2013 at 11:42

I have come across yellow,blak with red spots but not orange.

Joe_the_Gardener 20/01/2013 at 20:48


Could be.................the Orange Ladybird, Halyzia 16-guttata, which is fairly widely distributed in the south of Britain. It breeds on Sycamore, Dogwood and a range of other deciduous trees and, interestingly in view of your sighting, hibernates in, among other things, the foliage of Scots Pine.

The colouring and markings of some of the ladybirds is quite variable among individuals of the same species and according to age; some that are supposed to have spots don't, and the pattern variations can be confusing. The Orange Ladybird has white spots and apparently is generally less prone to colour variants than most, but I'm not any sort of an expert to be able to say whether a ladybird was actually a 'wrong-coloured' 10-spot, rather than an orange. It could be this summer's special subject!


Jean Genie 20/01/2013 at 20:56

It could be one of the invasive species of the harlequin ladybirds.

Just been looking at this.

oldchippy 20/01/2013 at 21:13

I found an orange Lady bird last year on my mahonia which was at that time was covered in mildew.

Richard Jones 20/01/2013 at 21:26

I'm sure Kate meant this was THE orange ladybird, Halyzia sedecimguttata, as Joe the Gardener suggested. Even ladybirds need scientific names to make sure we all know what we're talking about. One nice feature of this species is the clear, transparent flange along the front of the thorax, like a windscreen, through which it can see. Odd.

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