The ladybirds are leaving hibernation.
First published April 2020
So far, we have identified seven species of ladybird in the park; this is a sixteen spot ladybird, the most recent addition to our species lists and the smallest of the UK’s ladybirds.
Ladybirds are beetles in the family Coccinellidae. There are 46 different species of Coccinellids in Britain but only 26 of them look like classic ladybirds, brightly coloured and patterned with spots.
Sixteen spot ladybirds are beige, not red or yellow, with anywhere between 13 and 17 black spots that are sometimes joined together into splodges on the lower part of the wing cases. The diagnostic feature is the central black line where the wing covers meet. Only two species of ladybird have this central line: the 16 spot ladybird and the 14 spot, which is noticeably larger and brighter.
1. The 16 spot is much smaller than the 7 spot
2. Examples of colouration and pattern, including the central line at the edges of the elytra.
3. Inadvertently photographed in the park on a dandelion.
The 16 spot ladybird is a tiny beetle, never more than 3mm in length, often smaller, and very easy to overlook. The specimen that was identified in the park was spotted on a photograph of dandelions, as it was being edited. When the photograph was taken, the ladybird went unnoticed, another example of what we like to call inadvertent invertebrates.
The 16 spot ladybird prefers to live in dry grassland. Unlike other ladybirds, it is not believed to be predatory; it eats mildews and other fungi, grass pollen, and the pollen and nectar of certain composite flowers. Dandelions are a favourite, even dandelions in the process of being photographed by a member of FoSCP more interested in botany than entomology.
The 16 spot ladybird rejoices in a scientific name that sounds like one of Harry Potter’s spells: Tytthaspis sedecimpunctata. Use it carefully; anything might happen.
Header picture: 16 spot ladybird by Joan Quintana (CC BY-SA 2.0) flickr.com
Are these the ones that sting?
No ladybirds can sting but all ladybirds can bite. Then there are two questions: which ladybird would want to bite you and is it big enough to hurt you? The tiny sixteen spot is probably innocent on both counts.