Killer insects cause spot of bother

The harlequin ladybird devours UK ladybird species.
The harlequin ladybird devours UK ladybird species.

Pest busters from Lancaster City Council have a new enemy to contend with – the killer ladybird.

The local pest control team was called out three times last year to reports of ’cannibal’ harlequin ladybirds biting people – once in a school and twice in offices.

Harlequin ladybirds, introduced to the UK from East Asia 11 years ago, usually feast on native insects and are quickly becoming a scourge across Britain.

The tiny spotted predators, which have been steadily spreading north over the past decade, carry a sexually transmitted fungal disease which can spread to other ladybirds.

They also find their way into homes and businesses to stain curtains and surfaces with a foul smelling yellow chemical.

A bite from a harlequin ladybird will usually produce a small bump and sting slightly but there are a few cases of people having a severe allergic reaction.

A spokesman for Lancaster City Council said: “We were called out three times last year although none of the incidents were massive infestations.

“Our pest control team use pesticides and a vacuum cleaner to ‘hoover’ them up.

“The ladybirds get through into these buildings in winter, lay dormant and become more active in the sunshine, which is when they are noticed.

“Our team has also noticed more of them while out and about.”

Scientists fear that harlequin ladybirds could wipe out British ladybirds altogether after spreading rapidly since being brought over to the UK in 2004 as a form of environmental pest control.

Since the arrival of the harlequins, the two-spotted population has declined by as much as 30 per cent.

A spokesman for Lancaster City Council said dealing with harlequin ladybirds was part of an extremely busy year for the pest control service, due in part to the hot summer of 2014.

Much of the rest of the pest control team’s time was taken up with problems with wasps, rats and mice, and tree bumble bees.

HARLEQUIN LADYBIRD FACTS

Harlequin ladybirds are bigger and have more spots than native ladybirds, and are usually orange.

There are 47 ladybird species native to Britain. The harlequins have already become the second largest ladybird species in the UK.

Research shows that seven out of eight UK ladybird species studied declined over five years following the arrival of the harlequins in 2004.

Harlequins made headlines in Cromer, Norfolk, in 2009 when holidaymakers fled the seaside resort after a ‘plague’ of millions of the insects descended.

The same year, an estimated 10m of the harlequins also invaded a 20-acre farm in Chard, Somerset.

Harlequin ladybirds will also feed on ripe fruit and are particularly fond of grapes.