Derbyshire & Nottinghamshire
Entomological Society


The Alien Harlequin Ladybird in Derby
by Bill Grange - May 2006

The invasion of Britain by the East Asian harlequin ladybird, Harmonia axyridis, a voracious insect, deliberately and irresponsibly introduced as a pest-control agent to France and Belgium, poses a great threat to our native ladybirds and other insects. The first sightings were in Essex in 2004 and subsequently many other places in the southeast, with a few records elsewhere, as far north as Burnley. This included a single specimen found in Darley Abbey in Derby, found in October of that year.

On 11th March, 2005, I was startled to see an odd-looking ladybird in the sink of a work-room in the annexe of Derby Museum and Art Gallery, where I am based. My suspicion that it was a harlequin was virtually confirmed by a glance at pictures on the Internet. I sent a photograph of the specimen to Paul Mabbott, Sheffield-based entomologist who is a key worker in monitoring the invader, and he confirmed my tentative identification.

It was an unwelcome discovery, but I did wonder if it might have been an 'artificial' occurrence in that a lady member of staff had recently watered a potted plant, purchased in Sainsbury's, in the sink where I found the ladybird. The insect could therefore have been transported from the southeast or even from abroad. This possibility seemed to be confirmed by the absence of further sightings for several weeks, but ruled out when, on 3rd May, I captured a mating pair of Harmonia axydridis on the ivy surrounding the tall lime tree, which stands in Museum Square, which the annexe overlooks. This wasn't without difficulty as in my excitement I put too much pressure on the glass specimen tube and broke it, cutting a finger!

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Harlequin Ladybird Adult, Typical Form, Friargate Station, Derby, June 2005. Photo © Bill Grange

Harlequin Ladybird Adult, Unusual form, Friargate Station, Derby, June 2005. Photo © Bill Grange

From that time up to the beginning of July I collected several more specimens of the alien, both adults and larvae, the latter very dark in colour, with distinctive orange processes on the abdomen; a few from the courtyard of the annexe where I first 'spotted' my first one, and several at the old Friargate station site, a short distance away in the City Centre. The southern part of Darley Park, less than a mile away along the Derwent, furnished a few more, with a single specimen at Darley Abbey. Alerted by me, staff at Pickford's House Museum, just across the road from Friargate Station, began to find more on and around the large lime tree in the attractive small garden there and this has proved to be something of a hot spot. I saw more harlequins in the churchyard of St. Werburgh's Church near to the Central Museum. All the above locations continued to produce specimens of the alien throughout the year.

Harlequin Ladybird Larva, Darley Park, Derby, June 2005. Photo © Bill Grange
I informed the Derby Evening Telegraph of developments and following a very eye-catching article, featuring a cartoon depicting me as an A.R.P warden fending of hordes of giant ladybirds, members of the public started to bring more specimens in to the Museum (and some wrongly identified native ones, too). Most of these were from the City centre area including, again, Darley Park, Duffield Road and the Friargate area, with two specimens from Allestree to the far north of the city and one from Mickleover in the far west. A further specimen, brought in from Littleover, on 20th July, turned out to be an Eyed Ladybird, our largest native species, even larger than the Harlequin. This is a very unusual record as this spectacular species is usually found on pine-covered heathland. During August further specimens of the Harlequin turned up - along the Markeaton Brook in the City Centre and from the city end of the Burton Road.

During September I visited a garden near Five Lamps, thoroughly infested with them, again mainly on lime trees. Together with further records from areas already known to have them, there were specimens brought in from Rosehill St. off Osmaston Road in the south of the City. I then heard that the nearby Arboretum had been host to large numbers throughout the summer. There was another single record from Birchover Way in Allestree, only the second for that suburb. Alerted by a member of the public, I found that the churchyard of Darley Abbey parish church was heavily infested. Into October, and there were many seen on the trees around the Silk Mill and Cathedral in central Derby. One specimen found inside the Silk Mill and several in a house in Darley Abbey were the fist indications that the insects were beginning to seek hibernation sites.

Up to the end of October no local records had been received from the County outside the Derby City boundary in fact, none from Nottinghamshire or Leicestershire at all. Inexplicably, Derby itself seemed to hold an isolated heavy infestation of the invader, away from the south-east of England, where, according to Peter Hardy the National Ladybird Survey Project Officer at Monk's Wood (to whom all my records have been sent) it appeared to be consolidating its hold. Its main area of colonisation then ranged from Essex to the Isle of Wight, Central London being especially heavily infested, with odd records from Devon and Worcestershire.

The local picture changed on 5th November, with the weather still comparatively mild. Rather strangely, while I was manning an exhibit I had put together on the harlequin ladybird, at the Derbys and Notts Entomological Society's Annual Show at Broomfield College, just to the north-east of Derby, Paul Mabbott himself, who was visiting the event, collected some specimens of the very same insect in the car park there! Together with a single specimen captured in a house at Stanley, two miles to the east, on the same day, these were the first local records from beyond Derby. Later that week I had some adult specimens brought in from a house in Chaddesden - the first I had received from that suburb and, very interestingly, several larvae were brought in from a garden near Kedleston Road in central Derby. The latter find illustrates, that given mild weather, this species of ladybird continues to reproduce much later through the year than our native species, another way it gains advantage.

As the weather became much colder later that month and during early December, records dried up - though I was expecting lots of reports of hibernating adults inside premises. In the event only a few came through to me. Just before Christmas, however, when the weather warmed up again, there were several active harlequins on the vegetation in Museum Square, where I first collected specimens of the invader. They were still there in mid January 2006. The very cold early spring of 2006 curtailed Harlequin activity, but with the arrival of warmer weather they have been popping out all over the place, including, at the end of April 2006, one specimen in my garden in the far north of Allestree and one in nearby Allestree Park - where they seemed to be absent last year.

Harlequin Identification

The pictures here will help you identify Harmonia axyridis, but the insect is extremely variable, so a list of defining characteristics will be helpful:

1. They are relatively large (6-8 mms), the length of the
Seven-spot ladybird (our commonest native species), or slightly longer.
2. Their bodies are distinctly rounded.
3. Their legs are brown (only partly in melanic specimens).
4. They may have 0-19 black spots on red or orange or two
or more red patches on black.
5. Their heads have a conspicuous white marking with a
small triangle in the center - which remains on the melanic specimens.
6. Their pronota have a lot of white, the side margins remain
on melanic specimens.

For further information visit the National Harlequin Recording Website at