One of Britain’s most common ladybirds yet one which is rarely seen out in the open. Rhyzobius litura, the Meadow Ladybird is an attractively marked inconspicuous ladybird associated with grassy habitats. Measuring only around 2.5-3mm this species is an incredibly variable species. Its wing cases usually range from light to dark brown but orange and almost black individuals do occur. Atop the elytra, it usually sports a ‘u’ shaped mark towards the rear, though this too can vary.
The wing cases of Rhyzobius litura are seldom shiny and instead, appear rather dull owing to a fine coating of hairs across their surface. This species also has noticeable long antennae which help set it apart from many other small ladybirds. Like the rest of the ladybird, the legs, head, and pronotum of this species range in colour from pale to dark brown.
Rhyzobius litura is most likely to be confused with the similar and related Epaulet Ladybird, Rhyzobius chrysomeloides, so much so that many claim the only way to separate them is to examine the keel. However, the markings of the two species often vary sufficiently with Epaulet Ladybird seldom sporting the dark ‘u’ mark of the former. Equally, both species occupy very different habitats: Epaulet Ladybird in conifers, and Meadow Ladybird in grassland.
What does the Rhyzobius litura eat?
Both the adults and larvae of this species are predatory, consuming aphids and other small insects. That said, some sources claim that they also eat pollen and fungi.
A grassland specialist, the Meadow Ladybird is most often found among rank vegetation, usually in drier settings. They can be particularly numerous in rough grassland among tussocks of Cock’s-foot (Dactylis glomerata) and other species. Still, I have also found them in dunes and less often, within shorter meadow areas. Occasionally, they can also be found among Nettle (Urtica dioica) patches and among other dense herbage. Less often in my experience, they can also be found among woody shrubs such as Gorse (Ulex europaeus) and Broom (Cytisus scoparius).
How to find them
This can be a very difficult ladybird to find and indeed, they are seldom found without a dedicated search. Given their tendency to remain among dense vegetation, the best way to find this species is through sweep netting. Particularly, when efforts are focused on dense grass and weedy herbs. Occasionally, they are also found by shaking or beating woody shrubs such as Gorse.
Finding Rhyzobius litura in winter
Like other inconspicuous ladybirds, this species can be a pain to find during winter. Overwintering deep within grass tussocks and herbage, I’ve had the most luck shaking dense clumps of Cock’s-foot, Common Couch (Elymus repens), and other rank grasses. Sometimes, it works to place a net or sheet on the ground and shake the tussock above it. This approach also works well for 24-Spot Ladybird.
Status in the UK
This is one of, if not the most recorded inconspicuous ladybirds in the UK. At the time of writing this, there are 6,800 records of Rhyzobius litura held on NBN highlighting just how widespread and abundant this species can be.
A high density of records in the Southern portion of England is likely the result of an abundance of ladybird recorders, as opposed to ladybirds. That said, there are very few records of Meadow Ladybird in Scotland North of the central belt. Additionally, records from Ireland are far less numerous. See NBN for more information.
Status in the North East
My experience suggests that this is a very common ladybird in the North East. They make take some finding, but when time is taken to look, they generally can be found in any patch of suitable habitat, from roadsides to field margins. Looking at the maps for this species, most records come from Tyneside and South Northumberland; though there are a scattering of sightings across County Durham too. Surprisingly, there are only three records for North Northumberland.
Where I’ve recorded the Rhyzobius litura
To date, I have recorded this ladybird at several sites around Newcastle and am increasingly encountering it North along the A1 into South Northumberland. Elsewhere, I have found them once in North Northumberland at Lesbury, one of the three sightings mentioned above.