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Page last updated at 15:03 GMT, Monday, 2 November 2009
Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home
By Heather Driscoll-Woodford
BBC Surrey

Harlequin Ladybird
The Harlequin Ladybird has rapidly spread since its introduction to the UK

The colourful little Ladybird has always enjoyed a reputation as the gardener's friend.

Subject of nursery rhymes, stories and children's paintings for centuries, the bright bug has never been seen as a threat but all that is about to change.

A new beetle on the block, the Harlequin Ladybird, is moving into the flowerbeds and is taking no prisoners.

The bigger, more aggressive version of our much-loved spotty bug could threaten many of our native species.

Harlequin Ladybird

The Harlequin Ladybird has been in the UK for a few years now.

Originally from Asia, it was introduced to north America and mainland Europe as a biological control for aphids.

It first reached our shores in October 2004.

The trouble with this newcomer is that it will treat your garden like an open buffet.

While our native ladybird species is content with a serving of crispy aphids and a few leaves from the salad cart, the Harlequin has other ideas.

Not only will it go back for seconds and thirds at the greenfly bar, it will push in line for the buffet, expect a doggy bag to take away, and possibly eat the serving staff too!

With its voracious appetite, the greedy bug is happy to devour the ladybird's traditional diet of pest insects like scale bugs and aphids.

But if they are "off menu" when supplies are low, it simply turns its attention to other insects, including our native ladybird's larvae, eggs and pupae.

Tends to be rounder in shape than most native UK species
Can reach up to 8mm in size, a little larger than common ladybirds
It has a white plate just behind the head with a big, black M-shaped marking on it
Sighted bugs can be red, orange or black with between 15 and 20 spots
Others may be black with between two to four orange or red spots

At 6-8mm long, it's larger than our other ladybirds and scientists are warning that it could threaten up to 1000 of our native species, including at least half of the 46 types of ladybird which exist already in the UK.

Ladybird expert Peter Brown says the invader is not only a nuisance to other insects, but to humans as well.

"They come to houses in very large numbers at this time of year and they have stuff called reflex blood, which is yellow fluid which can stain furnishings and really cause quite a nuisance in the house."

Harlequin Ladybirds

So not just content with eating your friendly garden inhabitants, it is happy to spit on your furniture as well.

Anthea Long from Beare Green, near Dorking has been lucky.

The Harlequins that have made their home at her parent's house, have decided to hibernate in the folds of the garden umbrella rather than indoors.

At present there is no way of stopping the marauding bug as it chomps its way across the countryside.

Dr Helen Roy, of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, said: "We believe the negative impacts of the harlequin will be far-reaching."

So it may only be last orders for the Harlequin once the free buffet it is currently enjoying, finally runs out of food.

By which time, several of our native species may already be extinct.

Have you spotted the Harlequin Ladybird in your part of Surrey? Email us at surrey@bbc.co.uk and tell us where you have seen them. or send us your photos of the bug.

We found a mass of them in our motor home door nesting happily around the seal. I flicked them off and set them free. If I had realised, I would have killed them all.
Tina in Virginia Water

We live in Epsom in Surrey, we have found several of these ladybirds in our house in the past week. At first we thought they were cute but now realise that they are indeed a pests!
Gerry & Nina Marsh

Every year hundreds of ladybirds seem to appear from no where and descend upon my third floor flat in Walton-on-Thames in Surrey! This year whilst clearing up on my balcony I discovered a little clump of them. This is normal and I've discovered MANY like this before but never this assorted!
Donna Blasdell

We have just moved and have hundreds of these creatures in the window frames and curtains. It took me two hours to Hoover them up, no other way of getting rid of them. They seem to nest in clumps of up to 100mm in size all over the place, any south facing window.
Martin Day

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13 Oct 08 |  Science & Environment
Ladybird invaders unstoppable
30 Oct 07 |  England
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