Page last updated at 13:30 GMT, Thursday, 14 October 2004 14:30 UK

Deadly ladybird widespread in UK

Harmonia axyridis (Cambridge University)
The adult harlequin ladybird is about 7mm long

A ladybird described as one of the most invasive species is "widespread" in parts of the UK, researchers reveal.

A search for Harmonia axyridis was launched by Michael Majerus, of Cambridge University, in early October after one was seen near a pub in Essex.

Dr Majerus said the insect posed a "deadly threat" to butterflies, lacewings and many other ladybirds.

About 16 sightings were confirmed in the London area, Suffolk, Cambridge, Essex and Kent.

The ladybird, which is also known as harlequin or the multi-coloured ladybug, was seen in the gardens of the White Lion pub, in Sible Hedingham, on 19 September and identified by Dr Majerus at the university's genetics department.

'Damage limitation'

The adult bug is about 7mm long, slightly larger than the seven-spot ladybird native to the UK. It comes in a range of colours and patterns.

Dr Majerus said he initially thought the ladybird could be monitored and controlled, but because it was so widespread damage limitation would be the best policy.

He said his team received 1,000 e-mails, 100 photos and 300 letters reporting possible sightings, in the nine days since the first harlequin was found.

Only 16 of those have been confirmed as harlequin ladybirds.

Most were found breeding in central London, but they were also seen in Canterbury, Sandgate, near Folkestone, Ipswich, Newmarket and Essex.

'Imported flowers'

The larvae and pupae were found in places ranging from wasteland to a bunch of flowers bought at a supermarket.

It was possible the ladybird arrived in Britain on flowers imported from Europe, said Dr Majerus.

"Because they are so widespread, I expect numbers will increase rapidly over the next five years and could be as common in lowland areas as the two-spot and seven-spot ladybird," he said.

H. axyridis is still sold in North America and on continental Europe for pest control.

The bug now roams across France, Belgium and Holland, with numbers increasing annually.

Cambridge's Evolutionary Genetics Group can be contacted by e-mail at: info@gen.cam.ac.uk



SEE ALSO
'Deadly ladybird' sighted in UK
05 Oct 04 |  Essex


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