What came first- the chickens or the blog?

Ladybird, Ladybird

on July 5, 2013


Mr Gillybirds, and the two younger Gillyboys have spread our wings and flown to a warmer climate and the warm hospitality of Grandma for ten days. The Girls have been left in the care of the older boys, with a comprehensive list of what to feed to whom, and when. (let’s hope the lists don’t get mixed up)
In the absence of hentertainment, if you’ll pardon the pun, I hope you will tolerate a few blog posts on non-chicken related topics. Funnily enough though as I sit in the shade by the pool here in the Portuguese country side barely five minutes pass without the triumphant sound of a laying hen or a raucous rooster from Grandma’s neighbouring pollo. Makes me feel right at home, apart from the delightful wall to wall sunshine 🙂
I love ladybirds. the Woodland Trust identifies 23 different species of colours from red, orange and yellow through to black. Some live in trees, some only on a specific variety of Scottish Heather, but all, like the bee population, are declining rapidly in number. The ladybird population of the UK has come under threat. There are a number of reasons for this – pesticides killing their food source (a ladybird has a 60 a day aphid habit), destruction of their habitats due to urbanisation, the introduction of the aggressive non native Harlequin Ladybird, only first spotted as recently as 2003, and the wet year of 2012 and long winter of 2013.
With the thought that every cloud has a silver lining, the orange ladybird, who is less pretty and more hairy than her red sisters, has thrived in the damp conditions as she diets on mildew.
Sadly the two spot ladybird population has declined by 45% since Harlequins came to the UK eating their food and taking over their habitat (come to think of it, that is exactly what we have done to Grandma this week!)
Nowadays scientists refer to ladybirds as lady beetles.
But why ladybirds anyway? They are neither like a lady or a bird.
Legend has it that crops in Europe during the Middle Ages were plagued by pests, so the farmers began praying to the Blessed Lady, the Virgin Mary. Soon, the farmers started seeing ladybirds (or our North American friends would call ladybugs) in their fields, and the crops were miraculously saved from the pests. They associated their good fortune with the black and red beetles, and so began calling them lady beetles. In Germany, these insects go by the name Marienkafer, which means Mary beetles. The 7-spotted lady beetle is believed to be the first named for the Virgin Mary; the red color represents her cloak, and the black spots represent her sorrows.
The Gillyboys are fascinated to learn that ladybirds bleed from their knees when threatened.
A ladybird’s smell is both toxic and rank. Startle a ladybug, and the foul-smelling fluid will seep from its leg joints, leaving yellow stains on the surface below. Potential predators may be deterred by the vile mix of alkaloids, and equally repulsed by the sight of a seemingly sickly beetle. Ladybug larvae can ooze alkaloids from their abdomens.
Also, as nature often declares their bright colors warn predators to stay away. Like many other insects, ladybirds use colouration to signal their toxicity to would-be predators. Insect-eating birds and other animals learn to avoid meals that come in red and black, and are more likely to steer clear of a ladybird lunch.
Dr Helen Roy of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology has introduced an app, iRecord Ladybirds, to enable anyone who spots one to identify it and record where and when it was found. This is to monitor the decline of the seven spot ladybird and the two spot, insects which are truly loved by gardeners and children alike. So far 10,000 people have responded. Despite many searches sadly I have yet to find even one!


Two spotted ladybird

20130705-143133.jpgand the baddie of them all, the Harlequin ladybird

One response to “Ladybird, Ladybird

  1. zeudytigre says:

    ‘eating their food and taking over their habitat’? My guess is that Grandma is more than happy with this turn of events 😉 Enjoy your holiday

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