'Voracious' ladybird threatens native species

A A A

The recent arrival of the invasive harlequin ladybird in the UK is likely to threaten more than 1,000 native species, scientists warned today.



The harlequin has become a common sight as it has spread across the country in the past few years - even invading houses in the autumn to hibernate over winter in warm spots.

The ladybird is originally from Asia but was introduced in continental Europe to control pest insects which were damaging crops and has since spread to the UK on fruit and flowers and by being blown across the Channel.

A survey launched in 2005 has, with the help of the public, managed to track its progress using some 30,000 online records.

Since its arrival in 2004, the ladybird has spread from Essex to Orkney in just four years, with places such as London parks now recording staggering numbers of the insect.

The bug is a "voracious" predator, which preys on a wide variety of insects, including the larvae of other ladybirds, caterpillars and even fruit, and out-competes with native species.

As a result, the species poses a major concern for the UK's wildlife according to Dr Helen Roy of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH).

Evidence from the US, which introduced the harlequin more than 20 years ago, shows "severe declines" in native species.

"We believe that the negative impacts of the harlequin on Britain will be far reaching and disruptive, with the potential to affect over 1,000 of our native species," she said.

"It's a big and voracious predator, it will eat lots of different insects, soft fruit and all kinds of things. Its reproductive capacity is also immense."

The harlequin ladybird has a variable appearance, is very difficult to tell apart from our native ladybirds, and can chomp through more than 12,000 aphids a year.

But it is also known to eat species such as lacewing larvae as well as pest insects carrying pathogens, depleting the supplies of the diseases which normally keep such species under control.

It will try anything it comes across when hungry, and had even been recorded eating the caterpillar of a brimstone butterfly, Dr Roy said.

Scientists from five organisations are presenting information about the harlequin at the Royal Society Summer Exhibition this week, and warn its arrival will mean "one winner, 1,000 losers".

Ladybirds do not have many enemies, as they are distasteful and toxic to many predators and let would-be diners know this with their bright colouring.

The harlequin ladybird has even fewer predators as it is not a native species.

But the researchers are exploring how the few native enemies that exist, including fungal disease, male-killing bacteria, parasitic wasps and flies, could be used to control the population - or may evolve to tackle the harlequin naturally.

One of the most promising ideas could involve encouraging the transmission of a sexually transmitted mite which makes some ladybirds infertile in a bid to reduce the harlequin population.

Dr Remy Ware, of the University of Cambridge, who is working on how the mite could control harlequin populations, said it was a naturally-occurring UK species which did not affect most British ladybirds because of their breeding cycles.

She said her team was examining if it could be artificially transferred to harlequins, where the ladybird's breeding pattern may allow it to be naturally transmitted, causing females to become sterile.

Dr Roy also said that if the harlequin is found in the habitat of rare ladybirds such as the five spot, which lives in just a few sites of disturbed river shingle in Wales, it may have to be physically removed to protect the native insect.

But she warned: "We haven't got a hope of blanket control of the harlequin ladybird. Anything we do here we'd have to do in other countries in Europe."

And she said the researchers were not encouraging people to kill harlequins as it would make no difference to the overall population and they may accidentally kill native species.

The scientists from CEH, the University of Cambridge, Anglia Ruskin University, Rothamsted Research and the University of Hull, will be at the Royal Society's Summer Science Exhibition this week.

They will be explaining how to tell the difference between harlequins and native species and what methods might be used to control the invasive insects.

* The Royal Society's Summer Science Exhibition is free to the public. It runs from Tuesday June 30 to Saturday July 4 at the Royal Society, 6-9 Carlton House Terrace, London.



News
people
News
John Rees-Evans is standing for Ukip in Cardiff South and Penarth
news
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
Sport
David Silva, Andy Carroll, Arsene Wenger and Radamel Falcao
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£20000 - £21000 per annum: The Jenrick Group: This high quality manufacturer o...

The Jenrick Group: Electrical Maintenance Engineer

£30000 - £35000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Electrical ...

Recruitment Genius: Photo Booth Host

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company offers London's best photo booth ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers



£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers ...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'