Once spring has sprung you will start to encounter the familiar ladybird. The insects found in early spring will have hibernated over winter in a garden shed or somewhere safe and venture out on warmer spring days feeding up and preparing to breed. There are actually forty-five species in this family of beetles but this bright red and black 7-spot ladybird (Coccinella septempunctata) is the most familiar.
Ladybirds, in general, are to be encouraged in the garden as they, and their larvae, consume vast numbers of greenfly and other 'pests'. The new ladybird on the block, however, the Harlequin, is less welcome and threatens the future of our own native species.
The bright colours are a warning to birds that they have an exceedingly unpleasant taste. They also exude drops of pungent, staining blood when handled which smells for quite a while afterwards. This accounts for the hint of cochineal in the scientific name; cochineal is a red dye and food colouring although it is derived from different insects than ladybirds!
"Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home, your house is on fire and your children are gone ..."