Rare ladybirds

by Richard Jones

[...] you can find fascinating wildlife anywhere, even the smallest garden. All you have to do is watch and wait, and something will come along.

Hinged wooden case containing hundreds of insect specimensI've just been sorting through some insect specimens accumulated last year (specimen case pictured, left). Most have come from environmental surveys, but there are a few picked up elsewhere, including several gardens. I'll take them up to the Horniman Museum later this week, where they'll use them in some of the hands-on displays and as education duplicates for visiting school children. 

As I'm taking a quick peek at each one under the microscope I come across a tiny brown domed beetle; at just about a millimetre long it's little more than a speck with legs. Ordinarily I would not have time to try and identify beetles this size, but this one is prettily patterned with a double pale horseshoe mark, and is immediately distinctive. It is Clitostethus arcuatus, Britain's smallest, and perhaps rarest, ladybird

Of course, not being of the large, spotted, variety, it is not really counted as a true ladybird, and is not included in any of the online ladybird surveys. But it is a closely related beetle, part of a rather neglected group of small to, in this case, tiny species in the same family - Coccinellidae. And although it is very tiny indeed, it has been used, like other ladybirds, as a biocontrol agent, against whitefly in California. 

It may have something to do with its diminutive size, but this beetle is only very rarely found in Britain, so I'm pleased it turned up in a small domestic garden - my parents'. They live at the foot of the South Downs near Newhaven. It's a lovely spot, but it's not large, and is very typical of suburban gardens with its lawn, flowery borders and hedged boundaries. I'm fascinated that such a rare insect should turn up there, but not really surprised. It's actually one of a series of strange and peculiar things that have appeared over the years. It proves, once again, that you can find fascinating wildlife anywhere, even the smallest garden. All you have to do is watch and wait, and something will come along.

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Gardeners' World Web User 18/02/2010 at 03:44

I do love ladybirds. There used to be millions of them in Oxford when I was a kid. Seems I never see them at all these days, mind you, I live in North now.

Gardeners' World Web User 18/02/2010 at 09:51

ON my allotment i use bark for the paths and mulch with grass cutings in places and leaf mould. Last year we had loads and loads of lady bird larvae and the lady birds and this year as iv e started preparing for the growing season i have found lots of hibernating ladybirds ,how do i make sure that they are the native ones and not the ones that are invading us.And if they are the invading ones what shall i do ?

Gardeners' World Web User 19/02/2010 at 13:55

Some years ago l found some, as l thought then strange insects. They were small purple with orange dots it was not till a few years later l found out they were ladybird lavea. I've never seen them again but l'm putting up a ladybird tower so l'm hoping to see some in the future.

Gardeners' World Web User 20/02/2010 at 15:53

Wow! I would have been pleased if I was you Richard, there is I often think an irony in wildlife behaviour, what should happen doesn't and the things that we do see are sometimes more unusual. Although I woulld be the first to admit that I would not have recognised your rarity as such!

Gardeners' World Web User 21/02/2010 at 14:30

Have just found a few ladybirds crawling from crevice in wall in bedroom. What do i do with these that i asume are just waking from hibernating - its snowing and still frosty outside!

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