The ladybird in your garden could well have come from the continent

7-spot Ladybirds hibernating in a Holly bush at the Hirsel
7-spot Ladybirds hibernating in a Holly bush at the Hirsel

The ladybird is one of our most familiar and best liked beetles, they are easily recognised with their distinct shiny bright red, black spotted backs.

People do not see the ladybird as a threat in any way, unlike spiders (although they are no threat either) and from an early age children are introduced to them through books, clothing and toys and grow up accepting them as harmless and acceptable.

The ladybird is common both in the countryside and in our gardens and from time to time may even enter our houses, they are often seen just sitting around on plants or on walls and stones but when they move they can run quite fast.

Ladybirds can fly remarkably well for an insect that looks quite heavy for its size. Most insects have two pairs of wings, the ladybirds hard shiny red casing covering its back are the fore wings and open up as wings when in flight, under this casing are a pair of transparent wings similar to those seen on insects such as flies and bees and when the ladybird flies those underwings are the principal means of propulsion. Ladybirds can fly over long distances and can even migrate here from the Continent, so it is possible that the one you see in your garden originated far, far away.

The young of ladybirds are small, often bluish-gray grubs which live on plants eating greenfly, aphids and other small insects, the adults are also voracious feeders on greenfly, therefore both the larvae and adults are the gardeners’ friend and should be encouraged.

Ladybirds overwinter as hibernating adults and often gather together to sleep in large aggregations.

The photo was taken in the winter at the Hirsel and shows a few clustered together amongst the leaves on a holly bush whose spiny leaves would give them added protection. The bright red colour makes them quite obvious and is a warning to potential predators that they have a bitter taste and when handled can exude a pungent fluid with a long lasting odour.

The seven-spot ladybird is by far the one most often seen, it is one of the larger species, and has a bright red back with three black spots on each wing and a black spot at the point where the wing joins the body. There are about 24 species of ladybirds in Britain, many are quite small and the spots vary in number from 24 on the 24-spot ladybird down to two on the two-spot ladybird and some species such as the larch ladybird have no spots at all.

One problem is that the number of spots can vary on some species, a two-spot ladybird can be red with two spots or black with two, four or six red spots.

The 10-spot ladybird is another very small species and is quite common in Berwickshire.