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Irene Geoghegan, Scottish Crop Research Institute
"We want people to send ladybirds to us so we can examine them"
 real 28k

Monday, 17 January, 2000, 14:46 GMT
'Save our ladybirds' plea

Ladybird The seven-spot ladybird is in danger


Researchers have begun a race against time to find a way of stopping a parasitic wasp from destroying the UK's ladybird population.

A team of experts from the Scottish Crop Research Institute in Dundee have found that up to 80% of the UK's "seven-spot" ladybirds have been hit by the dinocampus coccinellae wasp.



The wasp, which looks like a flying ant but has black and orange markings invisible to the naked eye, is a very persistent parasite
Irene Geoghegan
Irene Geoghegan, from the institute, believes that the worst hit populations of ladybirds many never recover from the invasion.

She said: "The results are very alarming.

"The wasp, which looks like a flying ant but has black and orange markings invisible to the naked eye, is a very persistent parasite."

"It has been absolutely rampant in the past five years.

"We need a nationwide study to establish exactly how much damage has been done to the ladybird."

Mrs Geoghegan is calling on the nation to observe the seven-spot ladybird, catalogue where they are found and send samples of the insect in the post to the Dundee-based institute.

Postal research

"It is perfectly okay to rest the ladybird on tissues in a matchbox with airholes and then place it in a jiffy bag and send it to the institute.

"Because the ladybird hibernates, when it is put in the dark it will go to sleep and be quite safe."

Wasps Parasitic wasp: Threat to ladybird
Without ladybirds, it is estimated that the 100m which is spent each year on aphid-controlling pesticides would need to be doubled.

Mrs Geoghegan studied 2,605 ladybirds collected from across Scotland, but believes the results reflect a nationwide problem.

The UK Wild 2000 survey and the BBC's natural history unit have now joined forces with the research institute in an attempt to study the problem further in a bid to halt the ladybirds decline.

Protects plants and crops

The seven spot is Britain's most common species of ladybird.

They are welcomed by farmers and gardeners because they eat the destructive aphids which rapidly destroy garden plants and crops.

The parasitic wasps are mostly female and plant a single egg in the ladybird by penetrating its soft underbelly.

The ladybird then acts as a living incubator.

The egg feeds off the ladybird as it grows into a larva before paralysing, but not killing, the ladybird and burrowing out head first through the body wall.

After the six-week process is complete the paralysed ladybird finally dies of fungal infection or starvation because it cannot search for food.

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See also:
23 Aug 99 |  Sci/Tech
Insect spotters count the cost
05 Nov 99 |  Sci/Tech
100-eyed bug surprises scientists
22 Jul 98 |  UK
Euro-wasps make beeline for Britain

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