7 Ladybird facts
1. Ladybirds - Ladybirds are beetles and the most common type is bright red with seven spots.
2. Most gardeners love Ladybirds because they eat garden pests such as green fly.
3. 46 species of Ladybirds are common in Britain, but there are 3500 species of Ladybirds world-wide (approximately!).
4. Ladybirds hibernate in houses during the winter and emerge in March/April - or earlier if the weather is warm. Check the termperature with a ladybird thermometer
5. Ladybirds are red in colour to warn other creatures not to eat them because they taste foul
6. Ladybirds will secrete small amounts of oily foul-smelling yellow liquid from its legs as a further warning to predators such as ants or birds.
7. Join the UK Ladybird Survey http://www.ladybird-survey.org/recording.htm to help find out where they live.
Check the termperature with a ladybird thermometer
Look out for the destructive Harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis) It was first seen here in 2004 and originated in Japan. It was used as a biological control in the USA. It is threatening the survival of native British species.
Basic description of a harlequin ladybird:
Size and shape : large (7-8 mm or about 1/4 inch), round
Elytra (wing case) ground colour: pale yellow-orange, orange-red, red or black; highly variable
Elytra pattern: 0-21 orange-red or black spots, or grid pattern; highly variable
Most common forms in UK : orange with 15-21 black spots: black with two or four orange or red spots
Pronotum pattern: white or cream with up to 5 spots or fused lateral spots forming 2 curved lines, M-shaped mark or solid trapezoid
Other characteristics: elytra with wide keel at base; legs almost always brown
Pictures by Mike Majerus
Identifying the harlequin ladybird
Distinguishing the harlequin ladybird from other British species:
If its less than 5 mm (1/5 inch) in length, it is definitely not a harlequin ladybird.
If its red with precisely 7 black spots, it is a 7-spot ladybird.
If it has white or cream spots, it is a striped ladybird, an orange ladybird or a cream-spot ladybird.
If it is large, burgundy coloured and has 15 black spots, it is an eyed ladybird
If it has an orange pronotum, and fine hairs all over the elytra, it is a bryony ladybird.
If it is black with four or six red spots, two of which are right at the front of the outside margin of the elytra, it is a melanic form of the 2-spot ladybird.
Picture by Gavin Hatt
If you see one don't kill it as it won't deplete the stocks already in this country and may lead to other insects mistakenly identified as harlequins being killed. The best thing to do is to report them to www.harlequin-survey.org giving details of when and where the insect was found (include the postcode if you can).
More ladybird facts
Coccinellidae is the entomological term for a ladybird and there are 46 species of these. However 20 species you would probably not recognise as ladybirds as they are not bright red and spotted.
Even the familiar red varieties do vary considerably as some have spots that join together making identification a bit tricky. Others seem to have a reverse coloration, that is mainly black, called the melanistic form.
Many are clearly ladybirds but have unusual colouration, like the striped ladybird pictured (picture by the late Professor Michael Majerus with thanks to UK Ladybird Survey[http://www.ladybird-survey.org]). This lives mainly on scots pines and its latin name is Myzia oblongoguttata. A big name for a small beetle.
Finding ladybirds is something generations of kids have enjoyed in the garden. Why not check out your garden and see how many different varieties you can spot! But try not to disturb them as they are doing a great job keeping those aphids down.
Watch it! Listen to it! Collect it!
Wear your gloves to collect snails in the garden! You might like to mark the ones you find with a dot of nail varnish and then take them to another part of your garden.
Keep watch! The snails will either come back- bad luck- but at least the children will know that snails have a homing instinct! If they don't come back great! They'll have just found out how to get rid of snails!
Feed the birds and grow plants that will attract wildlife into your garden.
Take some time to listento the buzzing insects and the birdsong and the rustle of the grasses.
Look at the whole life cycle of annuals like sunflowers and their importance in the food chain. Collect your own seeds and plant them. You can even bring them indoors as cut flowers.
Let them cultivate the soil and plant their own seeds.
Dress up in the right gear - nothing fancy and always wear sturdy footwear.
Health, Hygiene and Safety
Keep a first aid kit to hand.
Use sun cream and hats appropriately and don't let them de-hydrate keep cool water to hand. Don't let them work in the garden unsupervised and tell them why.
Talk about keeping your hands clean and why. Wash your hands together!
Gloves are a good idea
Garden safety- respect your tools, store them and use them safely. Show them how!
Keep away from ponds. Cover yours with mesh if you have one even a shallow pond can be a danger! And look out for less obvious dangers like uncovered water butts too.
Teach them which plants to avoid and most importantly WHY- e,g
Poisonous plants, especially berries such as deadly nightshade -don't eat anything till you've looked at it together.
Wear protective gloves when handling;-
Plants that can sting or burn the skin like stinging nettles and Euphorbia.
Plants with thorns or hooks, such as roses and cactus.
Plant leaves that can cut, for example, pampas grass or phormiums, agaves.
Steer right away from chemicals and do not let children handle blood, fish and bone or similar fertilisers.
Count those seeds-easy if you have nice big beans, nasturtiums etc
Maths in the garden
Make a diary and tick off the days it takes for a seed to germinate. Choose cress, lettuce and annuals.
Plan your seedbed -draw a circle, square.
Measure the growth of achocha, beans ands sunflowers by placing a stake alongside and marking off the height. This will also work for any number of bulbs inside and out.
See how the sun moves during the day. Watch the shadows lengthen.
Use big paint brushes to paint the garden furniture or paths with water. See how fast the water evaporates in the sunshine!
Small scale garden tools help them to do it themselves
Squash and Pumpkins
Unbeatable for size, colour and shape- how about comparing their weight?
And of course delicious- see our recipe section.
Don't forget to save the seed at the end of the growing season and you'll be ready to start again next time for free!
Don't despair if you don't have a garden.
A window box can be an easy way to keep interest going and simply couldn't be easier!
We have gardens in a bag that will give you flowers, herbs and even fruit. Easy, no mess and quick. Why not give them a try?
Try mustard and cress seeds on damp kitchen paper on the windowsill.
Sprout your own seeds in clean jam jars. Good to eat, quick and simple! Stir fry bean sprouts in a liitle oil and soy sauce, they're tasty and full of goodness
Plants for Free!
Let your children dig up and divide clumps of Galanthus nivalis Snowdrops "in the green" they are easy to divide before the plants die down and you get rejuvenated plants and more plants for free! It's a good idea to teach them about safety in the garden too - snowdrops like many garden plants are poisonous. DON'T PANIC touching is safe, eating is not.
Show children how to use a trowel to split clumps of plants and then transplant them into another part of the garden.
Try Lamb's ears, Stachys byzantina; it's easy to see how this plant got its common name when you touch the silky foliage.
Maltese cross flower, Lychnis coronaria, is another easy plant to divide and has beautiful magenta flowers.
Ideal childrens plants
Let your children enjoy digging the soil the soil and plant their own seeds.
Give them a little plot of their own or a window box or large container.
Seed compost is readily available and is pleasant to handle and easy to work for little hands.
The best seeds to start with are the larger ones like beans because they are easier to handle.
Encourage children to grow their own veg, choose brightly coloured veg for flavour and extra goodness.
Kids are more likely to eat vegetables that they have grown themselves!
You will probably have to dig the trench but let the kids plant 2 seeds to a station and remember to water frequently.
Try growing some Purple Bush Beans, large seeds are easy to sow and the beans are delicious to eat and easy to pick as their purple colour contrasts so well with the foliage you can find them easily.
Runner beans, Phaseolus coccineus; are easy to grow and kids usually love them! Water well in dry weather, otherwise the plants will not produce beans. Carrots are great to grow for flavour and colour and are quick to mature.
Even if you don't have garden space you can grow your own fresh veggies
How to enjoy wildlife in the garden
3 easy steps to encourage wildlife in your garden:
Garden birds like to find a regular supply of food through the winter so if you start don't stop feeding. Some will feed on the ground, like blackbirds, others prefer bird tables or hanging feeders, like tits and finches. Some are insect eaters while otheres prefer seeds, so caring for garden insects will also provide a free and ready source of food as will planting seed rich flowers like sunflowers. Keeping a rough patch of nettles, a log pile etc gives insects and bugs, and small mammals winter feed and cover.
A dish of water or bird bath topped up with fresh water will help birds and mammals in the garden. So too will a pond as long as it's accessible to little creatures. Water is scarce when the ground's frozen so top up bird baths and dishes.
Birds need nesting sites in spring, insects need shelter from the cold, rain and winds over winter. Small mammals like hedgehogs love piles of fallen leaves and frogs and toads hide away in brushwwod and log stacks where they can also find invertebrates to eat.
Find some wildlife friendly products here to provide instant wildlife attractions to the garden.