Great Britain has been invaded and can expect to remain occupied for at least six weeks. It's the Europeans again! Through the centuries we have suffered from assaults from Romans, Vikings, Normans – even the Germans declared intent to overcome but were repulsed before reaching these shores.
This time it is ladybirds that have marched or rather, flown into parts of Norfolk, on the East coast, and Somerset, in the South-West. The spotted hordes have swarmed in because of a glut of aphids that has resulted from the hot, wet weather. Cars, roads and buildings have been covered in layers of the brightly-coloured creatures – I didn't know aphids could be found in those locations – maybe the ladybirds know something the rest of us don't.
It is the most extreme invasion since 1976 though we always have some ladybirds flying across the Channel to holiday in these fair isles.
The name ladybird has been in use for centuries and was originally a reference to the Virgin Mary – Our Lady – because she was often portrayed wearing a red cloak.
The collective noun for ladybirds is a 'loveliness' and folk lore holds that they can predict the weather. If one falls off your hand that means it will rain but if it flies away the weather will be fine. Be careful, though, for they can nip. The intruder Harlequin ladybird has a more unpleasant bite that can cause mild skin irritation.
If a ladybird lands on your hand you may make a wish and then blow it away.
Unlike humans, who develop 'age spots' as they grow older, ladybird's spots fade as age. They live for just about a year but in that time will consume more than 5000 aphids, justifying their reputation as the gardener's friend. If plenty of food is available the female will lay more than 2000 small yellow eggs. These are laid in the same locations as their prey so that the developing larvae have a convenient source of food. However, they don't like cooler weather and will not fly if the temperature drops below 12.7c (55f)
The unfortunate human holidaymakers who have witnessed this influx may find themselves reciting the old nursery rhyme with some intensity:
Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home
Your house is on fire and your children are gone
All except one, and that's Little Anne
For she has crept under the warming pan.
Naturally, when I hunted in the garden there was not a single ladybird to be seen. I suppose they've all packed their bags and joined their friends and relations at the seaside.Common Seven Spot ladybird (Coccinella septempunctata) Image from Wikipedia