With the Natural History Society of Northumbria’s fantastic North East Ladybird Spot launching this week, most of this weekend has been spent searching for these colourful insects at various sites across Tyneside. A January pastime I would never have considered a few short years ago that now, knowing where to look, is becoming somewhat of an obsession.
Orange Ladybirds (Halyzia sedecimguttata) have proven incredibly numerous this winter and, while visiting Preston Cemetery in Tynemouth, I was surprised to stumble quite literally hundreds of these insects dotted across the site’s many aged gravestones. The majority being found in wooded areas where headstones are located in the shade of broadleaf trees.
While I can count on one hand the number of times I have spotted this species in Summer, Winter really does seem like the prime time to look for these striking critters before they return to the treetops come Spring.
While Orange Ladybirds were numerous this weekend, Harlequin Ladybirds (Harmonia axyridis) were even more so, with huge numbers found in the city at Jesmond, Wallsend and Heaton. Few were to be seen at Tynemouth, oddly enough, but a handful were observed secreted amid the ranks of the plentiful Orange Ladybirds in what can only be described as a complete reversal of my observations in Newcastle. Here, these large invaders outnumber everything else ten to one.
Never present in great numbers and always somewhat of a pain to find, it was pleasantly surprising to find Cream-Spot Ladybirds (Calvia quatuordecimguttata) at a few local sites this weekend. Singles were found at Tynemouth and Wallsend, though the greatest numbers by far were seen in Jesmond Old Cemetery. A trusty site for a great range of ladybirds!
I do find it slightly odd how the numbers of each species of ladybird vary between sites with no obvious difference in habitat…
2-Spot Ladybirds (Adalia bipunctata) seem to vary in number daily, though where they are vanishing to in the depths of winter I am not too sure. Whereas last week ten or so could be found in Jesmond Old Cemetery, this week, only a single ladybird could be seen. Similarly, none were located at all at any of the other sites visited. This species is suffering a notable decline in the UK thanks in a large part to the arrival of the Harlequin and it seems that here too, they are growing scarcer.
Ever reliable, Jesmond also yielded a number of lovely Pine Ladybirds (Exochomus quadripustulatus), mostly sound asleep on gravestones. Small, black and fairly inconspicuous, I suspect I walked past a great many of these before spotting the one pictured below.
Another species that has proven to be anything but reliable this winter is the 10-Spot Ladybird (Adalia decempunctata), with only a single individual spotted during this weekend’s meanderings, once again in Jesmond.
Believe it or not, it took until the end of March 2021 to encounter my first 7-Spot Ladybird (Coccinella septempunctata) of the year. Thankfully, this year, a glance at some immature Sitka Spruce and tatty Gorse at Gosforth Nature Reserve helped spare me the embarrassment this time around, with six found tucked up at the end of branches.
Finally, we come to the undisputed highlight of the weekend and a chance encounter with a Water Ladybird (Anistosticta novemdecimpunctata) at the same site, this one found nestled within the decaying stem of a Bulrush. A real favourite of mine, I expected to wait until at least May before happening across this species which remains scarce, or at least under-recorded, in my corner of the country.
Inspired by those sharing their finds under #LadybirdYearList on Twitter, this year I’ll be attempting to see as many of these fabulous insects as possible across the North East. While we are not exactly spoiled for choice up here, lacking many of the inconspicuous ladybirds found in the South and a good few of the larger species too, I suspect 12-15 might be possible with a little effort.
Last year provided my first encounter with Eyed, Kidney-Spot and 24-Spot Ladybirds and this year, hopefully, I may catch up with Striped, Larch or Hieroglyphic – species I am yet to see anywhere in the UK.