Saturday, 12 September 2020

A LADYBIRD SUMMER

It wasn't very many years ago that I first came across a ladybird larva - that particular one was a purple and black spiky little monster on a honeysuckle bush. And now I have come across ladybird pupa for the first time - funny little bright blotchy lumps stuck to flower pots and rubbish bins. And I've become more aware of where ladybirds are - surprising places like snuggling in lumps of sheep's wool on barbed wire fences. Here is a selection of observations from the last few months.

First is a seven spot ladybird (27th June 2020) on a dying plant in town. I wonder what it is doing there. I've peered into the photo looking to see if there are aphids for it to eat. No. I worry about it retrospectively. Why was the plant dying? Had someone poisoned it? Would the ladybird die too? What is it about ladybirds that we can't help feeling drawn towards them? Concerned for them. I really like coming across hover flies but I'm never tempted to invest them with personalities in the way I am with ladybirds.

Seven spot ladybird on dying plant in town. 27th June 2020.
27th June 2020

Here's another (on the 8th August 2020) on the food waste bin outside my house - a harlequin I think. The council provides us with several different kinds of containers to throw things away in and each is a place to find ladybirds . . . and ants! If you zoom in you will see it has a thread attached. These threads are everywhere. I don't know what they are.

Harlequin ladybird on food waste bin. 8th August 2020.
8th August 2020

The next day I came across a strange cluster of at least three seven spots (I think) settled together in a bundle of sheep's wool. It's a warm sunny day. Why are they there?

Seven spot ladybirds clustered in sheep's wool on barbed wire fence. 9th August 2020.
9th August 2020

I'll zoom in for you on this one.

Seven spot ladybirds clustered in sheep's wool on barbed wire fence. West Yorkshire. 9th August 2020.

On 28th August I come across a ladybird pupa (harlequin?) fixed to the outside of a steamed up car window. I think the white feathery bits are where it is attached. This attachment is quite firm. I had to remove another from a plant pot so I could wash it up and it was quite an effort. It may well have been a mistake to move it. Apparently they can flip up on these 'hinges' to avoid parasites. Trying to learn things from the internet leaves one very patchy. The inside of one of these bright little lumps is more or less liquid as it is formed into the more familiar beetle. How can it know when to flip up? How can it 'know' anything? I'm hoping some expert will tell me in the comments so I can change this text from bewildered wonder into proper information!

Harlequin ladybird pupa on steamed up car window. 28th August 2020.
28th August 2020

I'm going in date order through the year. It's not till the 31st August 2020 that I photograph a harlequin larva - the kind of creature that has turned into the pupa with the soup inside. Like the ladybird in the second picture it has a mysterious thread attached. It's on the big wheelie bin (with the ants). Do click on the picture to enlarge it. It is a most extraordinary creature.

Harlequin ladybird larva on wheelie bin. 31st August 2020.
31st August 2020

And on 2nd September 2020 - another (harlequin?) pupa in the hinge of the wheelie bin lid.

Harlequin ladybird pupa in hinge of wheelie bin. 2nd September 2020.
2nd September 2020

The pupa stage lasts only three to twelve days. How can the miracle of changing from a little spiky monster into soup and then into a ladybird happen in such a short time?  If I were a real scientist I would probably start breaking them open to see what is happening but I am not. And they are real creatures.

Something else puzzling me. Earlier in the year there were thousands, possibly millions of aphids, in the sycamore trees. I'm not coming across them now. What do ladybirds eat in the autumn?

I ask Google. According to Nature's Calendar ladybirds eat scale insect, mildew, plants and pollen - it depends what variety they are. On the National Insect Week page about the seven spot it says they eat each other. Oh joy! Why did I ask?

Last year I read a book about octopusses, squid and cuttlefishes. (Other Minds - The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligence by Peter Godfrey-Smith.) It was very disconcerting. On the cover there's a quote from a review in The Times newspaper. "Fascinating and often delightful". Fascinating. Yes. Delightful? No. Horrifying. So many of the fascinating facts seem to have been discovered through interference in their lives. Why do we want to know about creatures to the extent that we will mutilate, torture and keep them captive? One octopus, kept in a tank, would damage equipment and squirt people. Good on him / her! I say. (I'm getting cross.) (Read it and see.)

Incidentally, I'm getting cross too about the push to build electric cars. To make enough batteries we, we humans that is, will need to dredge the sea floor for cobolt. So . . . we've worked our way through fossil fuels which have taken millennia to create, harmed the atmosphere as we've burned them up, and now we're moving on to something else to dig, scrape, desecrate. Meanwhile, I enjoy using my laptop which is made from metal and plastic. And I drink tea (transported across the world) from a mug made from clay (dug from the earth and which, when it breaks, will be finished with). And I am glad I was born in this century - because the horrors of the industrial revolution are over and I can reap its benefits without having to labour in a mine or a pre-unionised factory. Oh, it is so difficult to be moral!

I would like to visit other countries. I'd love to see the world. And maybe one day I will. I'm fascinated to know how other creatures function too - octopuses and ladybirds alike. But we have to curb some of our desires to push forward. (How do we know which ones? To what extent?) Some of you have been kind enough to say that reading my blog brings you hope and peacefulness. We need that. You also enjoy looking at the little things you find here; things you might otherwise pass by. May I encourage you too to look at the little things around you. Try looking in the hinges of your rubbish bins . . . in fragments of waste caught on fences and walls . . . these ignominious places. Because there are wonders there to rival the octopuses. Miracles of little monsters which turn into soup then re-form into spotty beetles.  (What are all those spikes and colours for?) (Unanswerable question!) I have not been outside the UK in nearly ten years. And before that . . . it was about twenty years. Those visits were important. In England there's a lot of hardening; a lot of narrowness. We, as a nation, seem to be getting frightened of everything that isn't 'us'. And we are being more and more tempted into a slim idea of what 'us' means. If we travelled more, maybe we wouldn't be so frightened of what's 'beyond'. So there's the tension. Can we travel enough that we can learn to love our neighbours but little enough that we don't destroy the world? Can we be curious about our fellow creatures without feeling compelled to harm them? Can we be happy to stay at home? Can we be content to look without 'knowing'?

We need to know lots.
We don't need to know everything. Ladybirds on the RHS site.

Links UK - more than 40 kinds
Nature's Calendar - the ladybird page
Learn About Ladybirds - BBC Breathing Spaces
Life Cycle of Ladybirds - on the Ladybird Challenge (Help discover the balance between 7 spot ladybirds and their parasite Dinocampus coccinellae)
Harlequin Ladybirds on the RHS site.

Links USA - around 140 kinds

12 comments:

Granny Sue said...

As always, you leave us with much to ponder, Lucy. I was completely unaware that there were different varieties of ladybugs, as we call them here. I never stopped long enough to look. While I like them generally, I despise the Asian Lady Beetle that invades our homes every October. Apparently they are an import and have found life here in the US so much to their liking that there are now millions and millions of them. Such a nuisance. But back to your post--I've never even thought about looking for ladybug pupae. I will have to pay better attention. After all, I am surrounded by wilderness so I have no excuse for not being more observant.

HappyMouffetard said...

A fascinating and thought-provoking read. I have never seen as many pupae as I have this year. Our fennel plants were covered in all three stages in June/July. I love the larvae - they look like tiny dragons. I hope you are keeping well and thank you for your encouragement o look at the little things around us x

Lucy Corrander Now in Halifax! said...

Hello Granny Sue. There are more than 40 kinds of ladybirds in the UK and around 140 in the USA! In the UK they are often named by the number of spots they have or the kinds of trees they live on.
I think the Harlequin Ladybirds we have here (Harmonia axyridis) are the same as the 'Asian' ladybugs you have in the USA. There are lots of studies of it and how much of an impact it is having upon the'native' varieties. I think the jury is still out but there are certainly a lot of them. (Though they haven't got as far as 'invading our homes'. You must have even more than we have!)
The life cycles of insects are extraordinary. They shape and re-shape themselves. I'd not noticed the pupa before. I'm not sure why this is. It may be because I am now living under sycamore trees and there are lots of ladybirds wandering around up there among the leaves.

Lucy Corrander Now in Halifax! said...

Hello Happy Mouffetard. Thank you for your comment. It's really interesting that you've seen more this year. I was thinking maybe I'm noticing them because I am still getting used to my new location - which includes sycamore trees where there are lots of aphids for them to eat. But maybe it's another Harlequin explosion.

Lisbeths Haveblog said...

You are so wise and you pinpoint our moral problems in a very good way... Down to earth. :-)
Because of you I try to look for little things. To rest in 'now'. (It is very difficult.)
Lisbeth

David M. Gascoigne, said...

This does all go to prove, doesn't it, that we should never lose our curiosity and always keep a keen eye open. There is much to be discovered and nature never ceases to deliver wonderment. As for visiting other countries I wonder when this pandemic is going to let us do so again. At present, we are not permitted to travel outside of Ontario and I can't see that changing any time soon. I have spent my life travelling to far off places - and I miss being able to do so.

Flighty said...

Interesting post and pictures about ladybirds, which I'm always happy to see on the plot.
As for the rest of the post I agree with what what you say. Nowadays I don't drive and I'm happy to mostly stay at home. Take care. xx

Birgitta said...

Wow! Like these photos! Interesting post!

bill burke said...

I've seen a few ladybirds but never got lucky enough to capture a photo. I never knew that there were many different ones. Last year we gave up buying products that have plastic. It made an incredible difference in our recyle bin. We try to do our share and hope other people will too but there are some who get uncomfortable when they know how we live. We also walk everywhere. We were first told that you can't live in a small town without a car. We've been doing it for almost seven years. Great post and observations Lucy, have a wonderful evening and new week.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Ladybirds are fascinating and i love finding them, there have been a good number of various species around our local area in Edinburgh this year. And i agree, much though I like hoverflies they don't have the personality of ladybirds!

Interesting points you make about the difficulties of being moral too.

Diana Studer said...

Our battery is a one off for many years, rather than constantly refilling the tank. And when they cannot sustain the car, they can have a second life storing electricity for household use. Our own car is deliberately light (carbon fibre) and small. But sadly the newer models are large.

People eat octopus - that is horrifying, since they are intelligent. But then I am vegetarian.

Caroline Gill said...

I wonder, Lucy, how long it took you to compose this! I t was lovely to find your recent comment so thank you for that. It seems you are able to go outside a bit more now. I love the ladybirds and used to record them avidly before I joined Butterfly Conservation and decided to focus on their Garden Butterfly Survey and lepidoptera in general for a while. I agree with you so much in the need to steer a path between going 'far' out into the world (i.e. abroad) to learn how others live and to learn about other species AND, on the other hand, the need to restrict ourselves in terms of the carbon footprint we make. Like you I have been shielding for months this year and in my case only started going beyond the garden in August to the quietest spots we could find. There is so much to learn from 'seeing small', and having spent 20 years in Wales with St David's dictum to consider small things at my ear, it never ceases to surprise me how much we can discover in a tiny patch or organism. When it comes to ladybirds, I see Dr Helen Roy's Field Guide has now been out for a couple of years... (I have and admire her earlier Naturalist's Handbook on these insects). A terrific post!