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Mobile phones at the ready for Autumn ladybird invasion
16 October 2009
Harlequins and 2-spot ladybirds on a windowsill to wait out the winter
As ladybirds crawl into our homes for the winter, scientists have called for more photos to be sent in to the UK Ladybird Survey to help track the harlequin ladybird invasion. This invasive alien species is a potential threat to Britain’s native ladybirds and wider biodiversity. Scientists at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) have teamed up with Woolworths.co.uk to start a mobile phone recording scheme which allows on-the-spot recording and will hopefully encourage more children to get involved in science.
Dr Helen Roy, an entomologist at CEH, said this had been a particularly good year for some species of ladybird, including harlequins and the native 7-spot, with large swarms being reported throughout the summer. Now, she said, was the ideal opportunity to send in photographs to help monitor the harlequin invasion as ladybirds are mostly inactive during the winter months and some species, such as the harlequin, spend the cold period in buildings – often in large numbers.
It is also hoped the support of the public will provide clues about the numbers of the native 2-spot species. Peter Brown of Anglia Ruskin University, who also works on the UK Ladybird Survey, said that despite the increase in numbers of some species, there had been reports from across Europe that native 2-spots are declining.
“The tiny 2-spots tend to spend the winter with harlequins in buildings, so sending in photos of this species will provide us with the information we need to begin assessing the magnitude of this decline,” he said.
Ladybirds generally have few major enemies and when conditions are right they can easily reach very high numbers. The harlequin, native to Asia, was introduced to North America and continental Europe as a biological control agent because it eats more pest insects than any other ladybird. Unfortunately it also eats non-pest and beneficial insects, including the larvae of other ladybirds and the eggs and larva of butterflies and moths. Britain’s 45 species of native ladybird and these other insects play a key role in our ecosystem, but the harlequin has the potential to jeopardise many of them.
Cake featured on BBC Autumn Watch 23 October 2009. Made by cakematters
Dr Roy said ladybird recording was very important in helping scientists to assess the effects of environmental change, including the arrival of a new species, on biodiversity. The new mobile portal feeds directly into the UK Ladybird Survey. “We are excited that ladybird sightings can now be sent in through the mobile phones and hope using this technology will motivate more children to get involved in biological recording," she said.
“Studying ladybirds can be a lot of fun; there are 46 different species in the UK and, although identifying them can be challenging, it is extremely rewarding.”
Woolworths.co.uk is supporting the recording scheme as part of its relaunch of the Ladybird clothing brand. In addition to helping CEH set up the mobile recording portal, Woolworths.co.uk has also developed a Little Ladybird Spotters information pack that can be downloaded from its website.
The UK Ladybird Surveys featured on BBC Autumnwatch on the 16 and 23 October 2009. Both programmes can be watched using BBC iPlayer.
To send in a ladybird record via a mobile phone, recorders can text the word LADYBIRD to 83040 in order to receive a link that will allow them to upload photos and data. Standard network rates apply.
Related CEH news stories and links
First biological recording mobile phone portal launched - 16 July 2009
Details of CEH's Biodiversity programme
UK Ladybird Survey website
Details of the Little Ladybird Spotters information pack from Woolworths.co.uk (link now defunct)