Harlequin ladybird

Our native ladybirds are the gardeners’ friends, but the Harlequin ladybird is causing havoc among the natural balance in our gardens.

Harlequin ladybird
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You may have seen the harlequin ladybird already in your garden; it’s been in the UK for ten years now and is slowly advancing across the country from the southeast.

We already have a surprising 46 different species of ladybirds living in the UK, but this new one is bad news for many of them and experts are seeking the help of British gardeners to help track its invasion.

Why is the Harlequin ladybird a problem?

Harlequin ladybird
Harlequin ladybrids. Image: Helen Roy

This new ladybird, the Harmonia axyridis is considered to be the most invasive ladybird on earth. Its recent arrival in Britain could jeopardize many of the native ladybirds in the UK. It can live in very diverse habitats so it can compete with other ladybird species in their chosen territory for food. It will also eat other ladybird species, as well as usual ladybird food such as aphids and scale insects.

What does a Harlequin ladybird look like?

A British ladybird. Image: Martin Mulchinock

Ladybirds are small beetles, usually round or oval in shape. They have hard forewings called elytra, which are usually brightly coloured and patterned. The Harlequin ladybird also called the Halloween ladybird or multi-coloured ladybird can be very variable in its appearance. This can make it a bit tricky telling it apart from our friendly native ladybirds.

Not all of our native species are brightly coloured and spotty, some in fact are quite dull looking and don’t really look like ladybirds at all. The most common species in Britain is the 7-spot ladybird.

You can find some useful images and information on the Harlequin Ladybird survey site. There’s also a ladybird identification sheet to help you distinguish the harlequin ladybird from other native British ladybirds.

Generally the harlequin ladybird is a bit bigger than our native ladybird species. The most common types are orange with 15-21 black spots or black with two or four orange or red spots, but there is huge variation.

What to do if you see one?

Harlequin ladybird
Harlequin ladybirds come in a range of colours. Image: Helen Roy.

If you see what you believe are harlequin ladybirds the experts would like to hear from you and the Harlequin Ladybird site. If possible take a digital photograph that you can send together with where you found it, when you found it and how many you found.

There is no recommended control for these insects, in fact they will devour a wide range of garden pests in your garden, so killing them is rather futile, you may as well benefit from their bug busting potential. The harlequin ladybird is such a successful insect and breeds prolifically, so squashing a handful isn’t going to solve the problem. What’s more, unless you are absolutely certain of the identity of what you have found, you may mistake a native ladybird for an invader. So in essence, they are best left alone. Instead help monitor their spread and leave the rest to the experts.

Jean Vernon

About Jean Vernon

Jean Vernon is a slightly quirky, bee friendly, alternative gardener. She doesn’t follow the rules and likes to push the boundaries a bit just to see what happens. She has a fascination for odd plants, especially edibles and a keen interest in growing for pollinators especially bees. She’s rather obsessed with the little buzzers. Telegraph Gardening Correspondent, mostly testing and trialing products and Editor-In-Chief for Richard Jackson’s Garden.
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