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The Invasion of the Harlequin Ladybird (Ladybug)

Updated on December 3, 2012

Origin of the Harlequin Ladybird

The Harlequin Ladybird (Harmonia axyridis), otherwise known as the Multi-Coloured Ladybird or the Halloween Ladybird, was introduced to North America from Asia in 1988, originally for their aphid-eating abilities. It took several attempts to establish a colony there, so this was not accidental, but a deliberate, planned event by the United States Dept of Agriculture that was to have global implications.

This ladybird is now the most common variety found in the whole of the United States.

At a later date the harlequin was introduced to Holland, primarily for aphid control on crops, and from there it migrated across the English Channel and was first spotted in southern England in 2004.

Since then it has spread both north and east, and is now reckoned to be the biggest ecological threat since the introduction of the grey squirrel, another creature without natural predators, which all but wiped out the red squirrel population

Bigger than any of the 34 indigenous species native to the the British shores, the Harlequin as it is known in Britain because of its varied colours, not only eats voraciously the same food destined for the British ladybirds, it also eats the smaller native ladybirds and their eggs, as well as the eggs and larvae of many other insects, some beneficial and others less so.

Scientists believe that up to 100 species are now at risk because of this incomer, dubbed the most invasive ladybird in the world.

It is also cannibalistic. It will eat other harlequin ladybirds as well as their own eggs if they are hungry. This happens when the aphid and native ladybird populations die down, as is natural at certain times of the year.

They are also attracted to anything sweet, like fruit, and have been responsible for ruining wine harvests by altering the taste of the grapes with their excretions.

Breeding Habits

The harlequin has settled into its new environment exceptionally well.They breed 5 times a year, unlike the native ladybirds which only breed twice a year, and this has massively contributed to their growth and spread.

Unlike British ladybirds, they do not need a cold winter to mature enough to breed.


They Bite

Every autumn they seek out shelter to hibernate, and they are the only variety of ladybird to invade the inside of peoples' houses, where they cause havoc by staining carpets and furniture with their 'reflex bleeding' which is a normal response ladybirds have to a threatened or perceived attack, which smells extremely unpleasant and is difficult to remove.

They also bite, which can be problematic for people who are allergic to their bites.

They have a habit of forming together in their thousands if not millions, especially in a situation where they are warm and cosy.

There are reports of whole streets virtually carpeted with them!

Ladybirds ar a beach in Germany
Ladybirds ar a beach in Germany

Predators

Their greatest problem in the UK and Europe, they have no known predators. Birds won't eat them because of the foul-smelling secretions they release. Other insects give them a wide berth.

They are free to breed and continue breeding, and being top of their food chain, they are rapidly outnumbering the local species.

They are antisocial as we have seen; humans do not want them in their houses.

some of the different colours of the harlequin ladybird
some of the different colours of the harlequin ladybird

Asia

Over in Asia, where they originally came from, there was no problem with them as obviously they have insects or birds which have been programmed by Mother Nature to keep their numbers under control. Europe and North America obviously lack the same ecological species, but of course introducing something which eats the harlequin would cause problems elsewhere in the food chain, as the natural ecological balance gets upset.

Tracking

Britain has set up online sites for people to report their sightings of the harlequin, with a special emphasis on involving schoolchildren, who love ladybirds.

This has enabled scientists to accurately track and record the spread of these aliens, although they still have not worked out what exactly do to about the problem.

Check out The Harlequin survey.


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    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR

      IzzyM 

      7 years ago from UK

      Yeah they were probably bred by some mad scientist especially for 2012!

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 

      7 years ago from the short journey

      Eew...and they bite? Ladybugs that bite? Sounds like an end-time issue unfolding! For now though, I'm keeping my vacuum handy. (Or maybe I'll buy a different one to use for only the stinky bugs if they come our way.)

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR

      IzzyM 

      8 years ago from UK

      They're not here in my part of Spain either, but they are in Europe and the US, so I suppose it's only a matter of time until they spread to every country in the world, unless someone finds a way to stop them. They are working on it, I'm sure they'll come up with someonething - eventually.

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 

      8 years ago from Canada

      Wow! I had never heard of these ladybird beetles. Like Justine, I thought they were cute and lucky. Fortunately, we don't have the harlequin hordes up here yet.

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR

      IzzyM 

      8 years ago from UK

      Yes this is a new type of ladybug, and they are harmful. I am so sorry to hear you are having problems. No solutions that I know of at this point, I'm afraid, except to seal off all possible access routes to your house from them.

    • profile image

      Justine76 

      8 years ago

      I get hundreds and hundreds at my house. They fly about in huge clouds and land all over my house. Every spring there are thousands of dead ladybugs in my attic. Once there were so many crammed into the wiring of my kitchen light above the sink it nearly started a fire. Once upon a time ladybugs were considered lucky, and I thought they were so cute. No I shudder when they start coming into the house as they really do smell bad. I had no idea they were harmful or not from here, though. I always thought they were supposed to be good for gardens. Thank you for the information.

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR

      IzzyM 

      8 years ago from UK

      I think the only way will be to introduce a natural predator to them, which of course could cause further problems down the line. Either that, or just hope the common blackbird or other such indigenous bird develops an appetite for them.

    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 

      8 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      Oh dear, and they look so cute! Hope we find a way of keeping them at bay!

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR

      IzzyM 

      8 years ago from UK

      Sounds like a good idea, so long as the vacuum cleaner got emptied straight away!

    • Karen N profile image

      Karen N 

      8 years ago from United States

      I haven't noticed them all the much lately, but they were pretty thick a few years ago. Someone said that the best way to get them out of your house is to use a vacuum cleaner.

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR

      IzzyM 

      8 years ago from UK

      You are the first American to have responded to say you have a problem with them. Yet the information out there is that this is now the most common ladybird (ladybug) in the US!

      They aren't biting you? Apparently they don't bite everyone, but they can.

      I imagine a cold winter or two will sort them out, so fingers crossed that this winter did the trick!

    • pigfish profile image

      pigfish 

      8 years ago from Southwest Ohio

      The harlequin, or halloween ladybug as we not so affectionately call it here in Ohio, has set up a permanent home in our upstairs bathroom year round. I have noticed that their numbers have decreased the past couple years inside and outside. Or perhaps I am just hopeful. Excellent Hub IzzM. The photo of the harlequins lining the street is going to give me nightmares.

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR

      IzzyM 

      8 years ago from UK

      The circle of life, ain't it great?

      I wonder if the scientists don't do it deliberately to keep themselves in a job?

    • Eileen Hughes profile image

      Eileen Hughes 

      8 years ago from Northam Western Australia

      Izzy, yes great hub, its like in australia where they introduced the rabbits, wasps, and now the cane toad, when will the powers to be learn.

      They breed something, then have to breed something to eat that, then something else to eat that one. Its a vicious circle

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR

      IzzyM 

      8 years ago from UK

      They are even talking about introducing yet more species to combat the problem with the first alien species! Crazy!

    • 2uesday profile image

      2uesday 

      8 years ago

      Hi Izzy, pleased you covered this topic, things like non-native species being introduced and then taking over is a great cause for concern.

      Not sure when mankind will realise that as far as nature goes these 'mad ideas' of introducing 'creatures' to a new enviroment rarely work out well. Keep up the good work, well worth reading, thank you.

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR

      IzzyM 

      8 years ago from UK

      Thanks Jayjay :) It is a problem I first heard about only two years ago, but something I felt should be drawn to attention, same as the New Zealand flatworm problem.

    • jayjay40 profile image

      jayjay40 

      8 years ago from Bristol England

      Brilliant hub Izzy. It is a growing problem, we could loose the native ladybird

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