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Rearing ladybird larvae – an experiment

To help identify a few of the trickier species out there, recently, I’ve been experimenting by rearing ladybird larvae at home.

Identifying ladybirds can be tricky at the best of times. Sure, there are the obvious ones, Water Ladybird for example, but also a fleet of more difficult species. I’m looking at you, inconspicuous ladybirds…

Identifying ladybirds gets much trickier during summer when many species (but not all) are between generations. In practice, this means that adults are scarce and instead, ladybird recorders must look at larvae. Gulp!

I’m dreadful at identifying ladybird larvae, I admit it. I recently purchased a fantastic FSC guide to UK’s ladybird species but still seem to be struggling. Keen not to lose those all-important records, however, I have come up with somewhat of a plan. This summer, I’m going to rear a few of the tricker larvae and see what they turn into!

Ladybird larvae

Keeping things manageable, over the last week or so I have gathered around a dozen larvae from several places. These were located initially on a mix of conifers and within grassland, hopefully suggesting a good range of species.

A selection of those currently in my care can be seen below…

Rearing ladybird larvae

Now, I confess, I have little experience caring for ladybird larvae. Thanks to a little educated guesswork, however, things do seem to be going well. Fed on a range of aphid species, from Rose Aphid to Black Cherry Aphid, all larvae appear to be growing. An interesting observation when it comes to some of the pine specialists. A hearty diet has already led to one larva (shown below) pupating. It shouldn’t be long until we learn this one’s identity…

Gathering aphids can, surprisingly, be quite hard work and collecting the numbers needed can be time-consuming. While our garden is lacking in the little sap-suckers this year, nearby cherry trees, thankfully, are not.

Besides food, the only other I needed to consider was how to house the ladybirds. They don’t need too much space, but shouldn’t be placed together for fear of eating one another. To avoid taking up too much space, I’ve opted for old fast food containers.

After selecting a suitable abode, rearing ladybird larvae is simply a case of adding some damp tissue to increase humidity. You could also add a few sticks or bits of plant matter for effect.

I feel like a child again as a result of this little experiment. Not only is it fun, ladybird larvae being amazing to watch, but it should provide some interesting records too. With grid references noted, once the larvae reach adulthood, all ladybirds will be photographed and submitted to iRecord. I’ll then return the critters to areas of suitable habitat.

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