The beneficial bugs found in our gardens vastly outweigh garden pests, so it pays to adopt a nature-friendly approach to gardening. Scour the bushes, look among the vegetables or dig down into the soil and you’ll discover a myriad of beneficials. My personal favourite? The ladybird, whose jazzy wing markings are always a delight to see.
And ladybirds are one of our biggest allies – as we’re about to find out...
There are many different species of ladybirds, often named according to the number of spots on their wing cases. For example, the two-spot ladybird, the seven-spot ladybird, the 14-spot, and the seriously funky-looking 22-spot ladybird!
The harlequin ladybird is invasive in both Europe and North America and will eat the eggs and larvae of other ladybirds when food is scarce. But they’re not all bad –they eat lots of pests too!
The ladybird lifecycle consists of four distinct phases.
Below are the tiny eggs, typically laid on the undersides of leaves in batches of anything from five to 40 eggs. Nettles are a firm favourite for egg laying, so it’s worth leaving a few patches of nettles to keep these aphid-munching beetles close by.
And ladybirds eat lots of aphids. As soon as the eggs hatch, the formidable-looking, spiky larvae begin gorging on any aphids they can find. Their voracious appetites will see them devour up to 50 aphids a day, or 5,000 during their lifetime. They eat other soft-bodied pests too, including whitefly, mites and scale insects, making them one of the long-suffering gardener’s very best friends!
After a series of molts the larva pupates. Often yellow or orange and with black markings, this pupal stage lasts for around one to two weeks during which time the magical transformation from larva to adult beetle occurs.
Then, finally, the adult beetle emerges. The brightly-coloured beetles hibernate over winter, usually in groups or aggregations, before mating soon after waking up again in spring, ready to start the lifecycle all over again.
Encourage More Ladybirds Into Your Garden
As well as leaving some nettles be, avoid spraying pesticides, which will have a knock-on effect on predators such as ladybirds. It’s tempting to panic at the first sign of aphids, but a little restraint often pays off with a visit from these hungry bugs.
Ladybirds can also be attracted into your garden with pollen-rich blooms. Flat-topped flowers such as yarrow, angelica, fennel and dill are great, along with common companion plants like calendula, sweet alyssum and marigold.
Offer ladybirds somewhere to overwinter too. They usually hibernate in hollow stems and other nooks and crannies, so delay cutting back old stems till spring. Or why not make your own ladybird hotel by stuffing straw and a bundle of wide bamboo sections into an old pot, tied together to keep them all in place. Stuff more straw around the sides for insulation, and position the ladybird house one to three feet above the ground, in a sheltered, sunny spot.
You may or may not be aware that we are running a competition as part of our Big Bug Hunt. You’ve seen our attempts at capturing ladybirds on film, but now we’re after clips of other bugs too. By entering the Big Bug Hunt Video Clip Competition you can help us fill the gaps – and there are cash rewards for every clip we use. Go shoot some bugs!