Ladybirds make their stamp

Ladybirds have led me on all kinds of adventures. I have met so many interesting people through our shared interest in these delightful creatures and the way in which people have joined in the UK Ladybird Survey has been simply inspiring.

I have been so fortunate to be part of a diverse range of so called “public engagement” initiatives from working with school children through the BBC Breathing Places "Do One Thing for Nature" to talking at the launch of Julia Donaldson’s latest book What the Ladybird Heard Next and designing “Top Trump” cards for distribution at the BBC’s Wild Day out. It’s all been lots of fun and has certainly contributed to the tens of thousands of records we receive every year through the UK Ladybird Survey.

So imagine my delight when I received an e-mail from Philip Parker (Stamp Strategy Manager at the Royal Mail) in September 2014 asking if I would be interested in helping by providing advice on ladybirds for a set of pictorial ‘Post & Go’ stamps. Of course I accepted the invitation with enthusiasm.

Ladybird stamps with an appropriate postmark

The first task was to agree a list of six species including some well-known examples with more unusual and rarer species. Philip had already given this some thought and the only substitution I suggested was the Heather Ladybird, Chilocorus bispustulatus, rather than the closely related pine ladybird, Exochomus quadripustulatus. In part because the Heather Ladybird is my favourite but more ecologically because it represents heathland habitats and so was an excellent species to include alongside the others which included: 

  • 7-spot Ladybird, Coccinella septempunctata - common and widespread iconic species
  • Striped Ladybird, Myzia oblongatata - conifer specialist with cream stripes rather than spots
  • 14-spot Ladybird, Propylea quadripunctata - a yellow ladybird with squares spots
  • Water ladybird, Anisosticta novemdecimpunctata - a specialist of reeds and a species which changes colour through the year
  • Orange Ladybird, Halyzia sedecimguttata – favours deciduous trees where it feeds on mildew feeding species 

These species are all quite different to look at and have fascinating life histories with differences in habitat and food associations. 

It was so exciting to see the first pencil sketches from the artist Chris Wormall which eventually metamorphosed into the beautiful designs created by linocut. It was such a pleasure to have the opportunity of commenting on the anatomical accuracy of the drawings and the habitat context. Equally it was wonderful to work with Philip and his team to devise the text, introductory information and species accounts that accompany the stamps. 

Two years on it is amazing to see the final product. A beautiful set of ladybird stamps. So many recorders have commented on their enjoyment of these stamps and I am looking forward to seeing them on the envelopes I receive with ladybird records!

There are so many ways in which we can communicate science. To me it is so important to do so. We have so many big questions to address and we need robust evidence to make decisions for the benefit of nature and society. In my opinion we can only do so by working together to gain a better understanding of our complex and changing world.  The ladybird stamps have been a unique and immensely enjoyable science communication experience for me. I am sure that many other species will get their turn to put their stamp on the Royal Mail in the years to come.   

I would like to thank the Royal Mail for inviting me to join them in this initiative.

Helen Roy

Professor Helen Roy's research focuses on the effects of environmental change on insect populations and communities. She is particularly interested in the dynamics of invasive non-native species and their effects on biodiversity. Over the last ten years she has led several major citizen science initiatives involving tens of thousands of people (including UK Ladybird Survey, BBC Breathing Places Parasite Survey and EDF Energy Big Bumblebee Discovery). She has been the volunteer scheme organiser for the UK Ladybird Survey for many years.

Professor Roy works at CEH's site in Wallingford, Oxfordshire and she is also a visiting Professor in the School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading.

More information

UK Ladybird Survey: continue to send in your sightings of all ladybirds

Staff page of Professor Helen Roy, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology