An incomplete but evolving guide to various colour patterns observed in UK ladybirds.
Many UK ladybirds demonstrate a degree of variability when it comes to their elytral patterns. Colour, as well as both the number and distribution of spots, changes frequently between individuals. So much so, in fact, that often, ladybirds look nothing at all like they do in the book. As you can imagine, this poses a challenge when it comes to identifying the critters!
Some ladybird species like the 10-spot and Harlequin come in a variety of known colour forms, each with its own unique pattern. For other species, the differences are much more subtle – perhaps a lack of spots, or spots which have fused together. Either way, all of this can make ladybirds look very different from individual to individual.
On this page, I wanted to share with you the different ladybird colour patterns, forms, morphs and variants I’ve encountered so far while recording these insects across North East England.
Varibility among UK Ladybirds
In this species, differences centre on the diameter and fusion of the spots, both features which can give this usually red ladybird an almost black appearance in extreme cases. More on this species here.
I don’t have enough experience with Heather Ladybird to comment on it’s variability but it would seem that the horizontal line of red blotches characteristic of this species is changeable. More on Heather Ladybird here.
Like the previous species, the Kidney-spot Ladybirds I’ve seen do not appear to exhibit a huge degree of variability. Something which is unusually rare among UK ladybirds!
Pine Ladybird isn’t overly changeable but comma-shaped red marking characteristic of this species can vary in thickness.
Larch Ladybird is surprisingly variable but not to such an extent as to make it look like anything else. Changes centre on colour, speckling and the position of dark markings. Melanistic forms are known, but I’m yet to see one. More on this species here.
Spot number and placement vary somewhat in this species but by large, differences between individuals centre on the pronotum. This is one of the more reliable UK ladybirds.
The main change in this species comes seasonally when ladybirds turn from beige to red. That said, some variation can be seen in the prominence of this species’ spots and pronotum markings. More here.
Demonstrating a huge number of colours, forms and patterns, this is one of the most variable UK ladybirds. These differences also make the 10-spot Ladybird one of our most beautiful (if frustrating) species.
A. bipunctata has several well-known and common melanic forms. Differences in the typical form are more subtle but do exist.
The typical form of C. hieroglyphica is striking and unmistakable but despite this, I’ve never seen it. I have, however, encountered the melanic form shown below.
Probably the least variable of the UK’s ladybirds, the main difference between individual 7-spot Ladybirds usually comes from the thickness of the spots. Occasionally, these may also fuse.
Like others in this family, this isn’t a particularly variable ladybird. Often, the main difference between individuals centres on the spots which can vary in number (7-11) and occasionally, may possess a pale outer rim.
Not as variable as it’s larger cousin but still pretty changeable. The typical form exhibits spots in a 1-3-3-1 pattern on each elytra. A four-spotted form is also known, though spotless and melanistic individuals may also be found.
A famously variable ladybird with three widely-known forms each of which showcases great variation within them. The pronotum pattern is similarly variable and spotless varieties do occasionally appear.
Probably the UK’s least variable ladybird in my experience. Small differences in the typical form are possible due to spot prominence but largely unchanging. A darker form with more of a purple basal colour on the elytra also exists but I’m yet to see it!
Occasionally, there might be a slight colour variation in Cream-spot Ladybird, with some individuals noticeably paler or darker in colour. However, if differences are present, these usually centre on the size and prominence of the spots. Sometimes, a dark outer ring may also be present.
Despite its immediately recognisable square spots, 14-spot Ladybird is a surprisingly variable little species. Often, differences centre on the extent of the markings and the extent of any fusion between spots. Melanistic individuals are known in this species and the dominant yellow colour can, on rare occasions be replaced by orange, cream or black.
A blissfully unvariable ladybird that almost always looks as it does in the books. That said, an attractive maroon/purple form of this species does exist. I found the individual below at Havannah Nature Reserve, Newcastle, in 2022. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it melanistic…
Eyed Ladybird is another extremely variable species, not that I encounter them often enough to notice. Differences in this species centre on the spots, the prominence of the ‘eyes’ and the colour of the elytra. Sources online also suggest that striped variants also exist, as do spotless ones.
Orange Ladybird is another species which, thankfully, seldom changes. By large, it is orange with big creamy spots and seldom looks remotely like anything else.
Again, 22-spot Ladybird isn’t an overly variable species. That said, the prominence of the elytral spotting and vary quite a bit between individuals. Some are particularly well marked, others aren’t. Similarly, the pronotum can either be yellow or less often, white. The pronotum pattern does change a bit too with some degree of fushion between the markings.