Adonis’ Ladybird

Hippodamia variegata

Adonis' Ladybird on Wild Parsnip, Newburn, Northumberland
Adonis’ Ladybird on Wild Parsnip, Newburn, Northumberland

Description

A rather handsome insect, the Adonis’ Ladybird is a small but striking species associated with dry habitats. Known as the Variegated Ladybird in the USA, I assume on account of its black and white pronotum, it is a small ladybird measuring in at only 4-5mm. It has a distinctive oval shape which becomes increasingly recognisable the more you see it.

Red in colour, the Adonis’ Ladybird has between three and fifteen black spots. Importantly, these tend to be concentrated towards the rear of the wing cases, unlike those in 7-spot and 11-spot Ladybirds. The pronotum is black in colour with a white margin and sports two white spots towards the head. The legs of this species are predominately black, with the exception of the brown ‘feet’.

Adonis’ Ladybird is not a particularly variable species. Sure, the number of spots can differ from individual to individual, as can their thickness, but by large, they look similar. The pronotum pattern is similarly changeable, with the extent of the white area varying between individuals.

What does the Adonis’ Ladybird eat?

This is an aphidophagous species (I do like that word). While they mainly feed on aphids, they also prey on whitefly, scale insects and other typical ladybird prey species.

Adonis' Ladybird swept from low-vegetation, North Shields, Northumberland
Adonis’ Ladybird swept from low-vegetation, North Shields, Northumberland

Habitat

Adonis’ Ladybird is associated with dry, sandy habitats. This means it can be abundant on the coast, within dry grassland and heathland and on urban and industrial sites. Within these habitats, it is often found on weedy patches or short vegetation; though umbellifers also seem a good place to look.

Where I’ve encountered this species, the sites in question have almost always had some link to industry. Rubble heaps, colliery spoil, reclaimed grassland; all of these habitats fit the textbook description. That said, there are outliers to this and I have also encountered this species within conifers in an inner-city cemetery.

Adonis' Ladybird swept from Gorse, Havannah Nature Reserve, Newcastle
Adonis’ Ladybird swept from Gorse, Havannah Nature Reserve, Newcastle

How to find them

This can be a tricky ladybird to find. Given their general scarcity, they tend to occur more as a ‘welcome surprise’ than an intended target. Visual searches of umbellifers within dry habitats can yield good results in summer, particularly if the plants in question are subject to aphid attack. Elsewhere, I have found the most rewarding way to find them to be sweep-netting suitable grassland.

Finding Adonis’ Ladybird in winter

A generalist, albeit a scarce one, Adonis’ Ladybirds overwinter in a wide array of habitats. I’ve had the best luck searching Gorse (Ulex europeus) within heathland and other dry settings. Similarly, I have found this species overwintering on Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) and within scrubby Heather (Calluna vulgaris). Overall, their taste in overwintering sites seems very similar to the common 7-spot Ladybird.

Adonis’ Ladybird at Silverlink Park, Northumberland

Status in the UK

At the time of writing this, there are only 3,570 records of Adonis’ Ladybird held on NBN. This is quite a lot for what is a fairly widespread but local species in the UK.

Adonis’ Ladybirds appear more abundant in the South of the UK. Here, records seem to show an easterly bias with concentrations of sightings around London and other cities. Records of this ladybird are widespread as far North as York, growing scarcer into the Northern counties. It has only been recorded a handful of times in Scotland. See NBN for more information.

Status in the North East

This is a rare ladybird in North East England, though one which appears to be spreading. Records of Adonis’ Ladybird are widespread but infrequent in County Durham and South Northumberland. In the latter, most sightings come from the Newcastle area perhaps mirroring the distribution of recorders, as opposed to ladybirds. There are only two records of this species in North Northumberland.

Where I’ve recorded the Adonis’ Ladybird

To date, I have recorded this ladybird at several sites around Newcastle and within urban areas of North Tyneside.

James‘ records of Adonis’ Ladybird, July 2022