Friday, 2 September 2016

Big news: Ladybird spotted!

In my last post I wrote about how worried I was about the lack of ladybirds in North Devon this year.

In fact, I was so puzzled that I contacted the Ladybird census people. (I am not making this up- there really is a ladybird census person and she's called Helen). 

Hi there,

I'm a wildlife photographer based in North Devon and despite actively searching for ladybirds this year, I have failed to find a single specimen. Is 2016 a particularly bad year for ladybirds, and if so, is this a year on year decline or an anomaly? Do you have any idea what is causing the numbers to (apparently) crash like this? 

I hope to hear from you,

Kind regards,

Tim Hearn

This week, to my surprise, I got a reply:


Aug 26 (7 days ago)
to me
Dear Tim

Thank you for your e-mail. We are getting similar reports from other people – numbers do seem to be lower across the UK but we are still receiving lots of records which is great. Ladybird populations are influenced by many factors – temperature and aphid availability are two important factors. Ladybird numbers do fluctuate a lot year on year and so the long-term trends are important to assess – which is why records to the UK ladybird Survey are so important.

Many thanks again, Helen

This was excellent news. Similar reports were coming in from other people- so not only was I correct about the absence of ladybirds, but there were other people out there searching for them! I got quite excited by the thought of all the intrepid ladybird hunters swinging into action across the nation... and by all, I mean at least three.

I can't see that aphid availability is a factor here- there's millions of 'em on account of there being no ladybirds, (and most of those are sunning themselves on the plants in my greenhouse).  Temperature, yes. But the temperature's  been mild. Does this imply that ladybirds require a cold winter, like some butterflies? And do long term increases in temperature and mild winters due to climate change threaten the ladybird's future in the UK? Helen, as a Ladybird scientist type, is pretty noncommittal about these kinds of questions, content merely to say that trends are important to assess.  

Anyway, the very morning after I received Helen's mail I was out for a walk with Rosie when I saw the telltale flash of ladybird red on a nettle. And then another, nearby. Ladybirds, it seems, are like buses. You wait all year and then two come along at once. 

I moved the first ladybird to a dandelion head that was rather more photogenic than the manky old bit of nettle that it was choosing to live on, marking the leaf so I could return her from whence she came after I'd finished with her, and did a quick photo shoot. 

I shall send details and a print of the picture to Helen, partly for being for being so obliging and partly because as she so rightly said, records to the UK Ladybird survey are important. 

I still think that there is some kind of ladybird crisis in progress, and I still believe that pesticides are probably at the bottom of it. 

But if we don't all join in and supply the good guys (or in this case Helen) with data, we'll never be able to prove it.