The 7-spot ladybird, Coccinella septempunctata, is one of the most iconic examples of British wildlife. Probably our best-known beetle, its image has been used as the logo for books, clothes, and much more.
It’s one of our largest ladybirds, up to 8mm long, and it can be found almost anywhere – it’s not fussy about habitat and usually arrives shortly after an aphid colony has established. Gardens and rough ground are good areas for the species – they especially love nettle patches! Their bright red colouration makes them easy to spot, but is actually a warning to predators – ladybirds practice chemical warfare by producing a foul-tasting yellow liquid from their knee joints when disturbed.
The 7-spot has been familiar to farmers and gardeners throughout history as a brightly-coloured guardian against greenfly, and it’s from this that ladybirds get their slightly odd name. Bright red in colour (matching the cloak of the virgin Mary in early biblical illustrations) and with seven black spots recalling the seven sorrows of Mary, these tiny predators were clearly a gift from the gods to farmers suffering from aphids on their crops, and so they became known as ‘Our Lady’s birds’, which became shortened to ‘ladybirds’.
Most people recognise the 7-spot, but are surprised to hear that there are actually 47 different ladybird species in Britain alone! The UK Ladybird Survey team have published a new ladybird handbook to help people learn about and identify these fascinating insects – why not submit your next sighting at www.ladybird-survey.org?