The days are getting longer, the weather is getting warmer (if somewhat wetter). And now is the time you might have a close encounter with one of our most recognisable animals, the ladybird.
As if from nowhere, our houses can seem to be invaded by these colourful insects. Scurrying along skirting boards or banging against the inside of windows. What is going on?
Well, first of all, what is a ladybird? There is not just one type, but a whole family of similar little beetles. Forty-six different ones in the UK, to be precise. Some are the familiar red with seven black spots. But others can be black with red spots. Still others can be orange, yellow, brown, or even purple. The number of spots can vary between none and 24, and despite the oft told tale do not show the ladybird’s age. Some ladybirds are very common, others are rather rare.
Their habits vary too. Some are peaceful herbivores, eating mildew and pollen. But most are voracious predators, hunting down and devouring aphids and other small bugs. This endears them to gardeners who count them as their friend in their constant battle against blackfly and greenfly.
Indeed, you can actually buy ladybirds to put into your garden, greenhouse or wherever as a chemical-free solution to this common problem.
So, what are they doing in your house? Well, last autumn when the weather was getting colder, the ladybirds were feeling it. Temperatures were dropping and their food (the smaller insects) were disappearing. So, they decided to hibernate. To sleep through the cold winter months, until conditions were better. Ideally they were looking for a small enclosed space where the temperature wasn’t going to drop too low. As a result, they were drawn to buildings. Cracks in coving, spaces behind built-in furniture, little nooks and crannies around window frames. All of these were ideal.
So whilst you were celebrating the festive season, the ladybirds were slumbering away. But now the days are getting warmer, the ladybirds are waking up. Prompted by the changing of the seasons, they are once more ready to go out and defend your gardens.
But they often find it harder to get out of houses than it was to get in. Hence the sight of them blundering about at this time of year. So please do give them a helping hand. Let them out, to once more stand guard over your geraniums and protect your privet!
Column written by Chris Andrews
RSPB visitor services officer