Harlequin ladybirds are hibernating in substantial numbers inside the notice board at the park’s main entrance.
They are called Harlequins because they come in such a variety of colours and patterns. An invasive species, they are believed to be rapidly out-competing our forty seven native species. They are Asian in origin, introduced into Europe as biological pest control for aphids and scale insect some time in the 1980s.
Despite the fear-mongering of some newspapers, Harlequins are neither any more cannibalistic than any other ladybird species, nor carry an STD that is eradicating our natives. There is a fungal infection, transmitted during mating, that the Harlequins have caught from our native species – and all ladybirds everywhere eat the eggs and larvae of all other species of ladybird. Sad but true.
Harlequins are not poisonous either (unless you plan to eat lots of them) but will bite if provoked. What they are is very successful in this environment; they hunt a wider range of prey and they hibernate later than native species and therefore have a longer breeding season. They hibernate together in huge numbers, sometimes tens of thousands, another strategy that seems to contribute to their success.
We need to be more careful about introducing alien species into the country for any reason – and particularly careful about believing what we read in the papers.
Photographs by Ian B