The Harlequin ladybird, which originates from Asia, has been eating up Britain’s native ladybird population and gobbling up its food since 2004, when it was first spotted in the UK, say entomologists (insect scientists).
The Harlequin ladybird was artificially introduced into Europe and North America to control scale insects and aphids. According to the UK Ladybird Survey, it is today the most invasive ladybird on Earth.
It is so-called because it occurs in numerous colour forms (a harlequin is a a mute jester in traditional pantomime, typically masked and dressed in a diamond-patterned colourful costume).
The Harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis). (Image: Wikimedia)
Harmonia axyridis is currently spreading rapidly across Europe and North America, and has also established itself in South America and South Africa. It is today the most widespread species in North America, and has invaded most of north-western Europe.
There are currently forty-six species of ladybird (Coccinellidae) in the United Kingdom. The Harlequin’s recent arrival could seriously jeopardise the survival of several native species.
The Harlequin Ladybird Survey says it will monitor this invasive species’ spread across the country and assess its impact on native ladybirds.
The Harlequin Ladybird Survey is calling on Brits to help monitor ladybirds. “We want YOU to get involved! Please record your harlequin ladybird sightings,” it writes on its website.
The rapid spread of the Harlequin ladybird during the first six years (shown above) continues today. (Image: harlequin-survey.org)
So what? Isn’t any ladybird just a ladybird?
While having a preference for aphids, the Harlequin ladybird is a very generalist feeder and tends to beat other ladybirds for most foods.
Different ladybird species play varying roles in our ecosystems. If species start to disappear, because the Harlequins are getting all the food and eating other ladybirds, our ecosystems could be weakened, scientists believe.
Harlequins are voracious eaters of juvenile ladybirds of other species – those in the larval stage.
Easy to confuse with other ladybirds
Harlequin ladybirds come in several different colours and patterns. (Image: harlequin-survey.org)
The harlequin ladybird, also known as the Multicoloured Asian Ladybird and the Halloween Ladybird, has a very variable appearance, which can make it difficult to tell apart from Britain’s native ladybirds.
This webpage may help you identify them.