Another conifer specialist, though thankfully one which appears a little less specialised than others. The Larch Ladybird is a small, discreet and unassuming insect. Named for its close association with Larch (Larix) it is actually associated with a range of conifers and including Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) and planted ornamentals.
Britain’s only brown ladybird, the elytra of Larch Ladybird are tan in colour. They carry very little in the way of markings with the exception of a dark line down the centre of the wing cases. When markings are present, these usually consist of 2-4 dark splotches or a number of smaller dark speckles. The pronotum, behind the head, is beige to cream and sports a distinctive dark ‘M’ shape.
Larch Ladybird isn’t a particularly variable species, though a melanistic form is known from continental Europe. I can find little online about this form in the UK, however.
What does the Larch Ladybird eat?
Larch Ladybirds are aphid predators. They are also known to feed on Wooly Conifer Aphids, also known as Adelgids.
A conifer specialist, the Larch Ladybird is most often encountered on or around needled conifers. Where conditions are right, it can be the most numerous ladybird in coniferous woodland but is also readily encountered in mixed woodland, amenity planting and even on isolated trees.
While you would be forgiven for thinking that Larch Ladybirds are found solely on Larch, other conifers appear equally suitable. I have had good luck finding this species on Scots Pine but have also recorded it on Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), Norway Spruce (Picea abies) and Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis).
How to find them
Larch Ladybirds are one of the easier conifer ladybirds to find. Visual searches of young trees, particularly pine or larch can yield good results. Sometimes, ladybirds can sometimes be spotted on the bark and branches of mature trees too. Tree tapping seems to be the most reliable way to find this species, however, and on a good day can yield dozens of ladybirds in a relatively small area.
Larch Ladybirds are easy to come by in winter, though I’ve had no luck checking the bark of conifers as suggested in the books. Looking for a brown ladybird on brown bark can be time-consuming, to say the least. Instead, I have had good results by tapping the tips of conifer branches where this species often overwinters among the buds.
Larch Ladybirds can also be found overwintering in Gorse (Ulex europeus), particularly near conifers. Occasionally, they are also spotted on man-made structures such as gravestones.
Status in the UK
It came as quite a surprise to me to learn that Larch Ladybirds are not recorded often, with only 4,500 records as of writing this. This is more than most of the conifer ladybirds but seems low given how abundant this species can be in suitable habitat.
Larch Ladybird is a common and widespread species in the UK. North to South, they are recorded widely in all areas of the country. Unsurprisingly, aggregations of records are found in conifer-rich settings such as the Scottish Highlands and inland areas of Northern England. See NBN for more information.
Status in the North East
Mirroring the national distribution, records of Larch Ladybirds are widespread in the North East. That said, like many ladybirds, sightings here are less numerous than elsewhere in the country. Records of this species are widespread but infrequent across upland areas of Northumberland and County Durham with noticeable concentrations in conifer-rich areas.
Where I’ve recorded the Larch Ladybird
To date, I have recorded Larch Ladybirds at several sites along the River Tyne. These range from Allen Banks, a mature woodland site in the West, to Newcastle city in the East. They do appear particularly numerous at some of these sites. Elsewhere, my only other sighting to date comes from Rothbury, in North Northumberland.