Heather Ladybird

Chilocorus bipustulatus

Heather Ladybird on Scots Pine, Rothbury, Northumberland
Heather Ladybird on Scots Pine, Rothbury, Northumberland

Description

.A small, black ladybird similar in appearance to the Kidney-Spot and Pine Ladybirds within whom it shares its family, Chilocorus. The Heather Ladybird is a specialist species which shows a clear preference for heathland, both inland and on the coast.

The Heather Ladybird is best identified by the horizontal line of red spots running across the centre of the elytra. These spots can be either free or fused and all the Heather Ladybirds I’ve seen to date have showcased spot-fusion to some degree. In addition to its markings, this species also also has black legs and like its relatives, a distinctive crust-like rim around the outside of the wing cases.

What do Heather Ladybirds eat?

Heather Ladybird is one of a few British ladybirds to feed on armoured scales insects (Diaspididae). It will, however, feed on aphids when available.

Heather Ladybird swept from mature calluna, Rothbury Northumberland
Heather Ladybird swept from mature calluna, Rothbury Northumberland

Habitat

By no means a generalist but far from picky either, the Heather Ladybird can be found in a number of different habitats in the UK. These included heathland, coastal dunes and scrub. As its name suggests, this species is most commonly associated with Heather (Calluna vulgaris) and is known to favour older, woody plants. Elsewhere, it has been recorded from other plants found often in a heathland setting including Scot’s Pine (Pinus sylvestris) and Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum).

To date, I have found most of my Heather Ladybirds on old woody Heather with the exception of one individual found mid-way up a young Scots Pine. Anecdotally, all of the ladybirds I have seen have been found in marginal habitats on the edge of moorland as oppose to within intensively managed areas of Heather.

Heather Ladybird on Scots Pine, Rothbury, Northumberland
Heather Ladybird on Scots Pine, Rothbury, Northumberland

How to Heather Ladybirds

For a conspicuous ladybird, Heather Ladybirds can be remarkably hard to find. To date, I’ve had no luck at all sweep netting heather and instead, have taken to shaking older plants over sheet or net in the hope of dislodging one. This approach does seem to work!

The individual shown on the tree above was discovered by visual searching and was assumed to be a Pine Ladybird. This approach could work but could be time-consuming given the density of heather in some parts of the world.

In winter

All of the Heather Ladybirds I have seen have been found during March and April. I have no experience seeking them out in the depths of winter.

Information online suggests that like many ladybirds, this species overwinters within bark crevices and in the leaf litter beneath Heather and Gorse (Ulex europeus).

Heather Ladybird shook from Heather, Rothbury, Northumberland
Heather Ladybird shook from Heather, Rothbury, Northumberland

Status in the UK

This is a scarcely recorded conspicuous ladybird with just over 1,000 records at the time of writing this. Of these, the majority come from Southern England with another cluster around Leeds and Manchester. The majority of these sightings come from inland areas but coastal records are frequent, particularly in the south. In Northern England and into Scotland, sightings of Heather Ladybird grow very scarce indeed. See NBN for full information.

Status in the North East

Until recently, there were only two records of Heather Ladybird in the North East. These unconfirmed sightings came from Peterlee and further north at Rothbury. They were found again at Rothbury in 2022 marking the first Northumberland sighting since 1984. Since then, they have been reported from Dipton Woods.

Where I’ve recorded Heather Ladybirds so far

To date, I have only recorded this ladybird in a few squares North of Rothbury. Specifically, on the heather-clad banks that overlook the town and a little further out at Primrose Wood.

James’ records of Heather Ladybird, June 2022