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FOR INFORMATION AND DISTRIBUTION MAPS FOR CUMBRIAN SPECIES VISIT: www.lakeland wildlife.co.uk

The popular concept of a ladybird is of a bright red beetle with black spots, but this is far from the case. Nearly 500 species have been described worldwide, including bizarre colours like metallic blue and orange.

Ladybirds derive their name from the cult of the Virgin Mary in the Middle Ages. Her red cloak represented the blood of Christ and the seven black spots represent the seven joys and seven sorrows of Mary. The commonest,or 7-spot, ladybird therefore became "Our Lady's Bird". The collective noun is a "loveliness" of ladybirds.That all ladybirds were once regarded as female is reflected in the Latin scientific names of all ladybird species which have feminine endings!

Of the 24 species regarded as ladybirds in Britain, 21 are quite widely distributed. Of these, 20 are found in Cumbria, with the 21st (Cream-streaked) knocking on the door! Most are red, orange or yellow with black spots, but white spots are also found and the Larch ladybird (H) is neither red nor spotted!

Some species are found in a wide range of habitats and these are generally the most common - 7-spot (B), 2-spot (A), 10-spot (C), 14-spot (F) and Cream-spot (D) Ladybirds. Some are very specialised and have specific habitat requirements and are generally scarce - Water Ladybird (see menu above for more info) and Heather Ladybirds. A number of species have a preference for conifers and have been increasing - Larch (H), Pine (E), and Striped Ladybirds. Most species are carnivorous, feeding on aphids or scale insects, but the 24-spot is vegetarian (leaves), while the 16-spot, 22-spot and Orange (G) Ladybirds feed on mildews.

Ladybirds spend the winter in a dormant state, although some species may emerge for short periods in warm weather. They aggregate together, often in mixed groups of species, and the same sites are used year after year. Possibly some chemical pheromone helps them to seek out each other for the winter and remains on the site to attract the next generation (as ladybirds do not live into a second winter). Species begin to emerge in number in April, although the Orange ladybird may take until May.

Ladybirds are under recorded in Cumbria. For example the 7-spot is probably seen in most years in almost every garden in South Cumbria, yet is only recorded for 20 2km squares in the County Provisional Atlas of 1998! Why not look out for different species between April and September and send in your records to The Cumbria Biodiversity Centre, Tullie House Museum, Carlisle CA3 8TP.