STD-ridden cannibal ladybirds invading Brit homes as expert says ‘leave them be’

With its little domed, spotty body, the ladybird is arguably the most endearing critter of the insect world.

But the deadly characteristics of one particular invasive species are anything but cute.

The large, voracious harlequin variety of ladybird is riddled with a sexually transmitted fungus. They can also be cannibalistic and make meals of a smaller native species.

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Each year, usually autumn, swarms of harlequins – sometimes in their thousands – crawl into people's homes.

This hibernation, known as over-wintering, has made headlines over the years when alarmed hosts, including football pundit Gary Lineker, reported a frenzy of the bugs in their homes.

But a leading ladybird expert, concerned with declining numbers of our native species, has revealed why we should still just leave them be.

Professor Helen Foy has been studying the rise of the alien ladybird and its effects on our beloved native species for several years.

Collected data shows that some of the UK's 47 species have declined in number, especially the two-spot variety.

"People can still find them," said Prof Foy. "They are declining – not to an absolutely detrimental level – but it is a bit concerning."

It is the harlequin and the two-spot ladybird which are most likely to be seen in people’s homes during the winter and they often congregate together.

The harlequins range in colour and pattern, and two-spots can actually have up to 16 spots.

So people could easily mix them up, said Prof Foy.

"I would really encourage people to just leave them because of the possibility they will confuse them for another species," she said.

Harlequins were introduced to from Asia to North America in 1988 to control aphids and the species spread to the UK from around 2004.

One of the worries was it could potentially transmit a sexually-transmitted fungus to our native species.

But Prof Foy said the fungus is not responsible for declining numbers. And it definitely can't affect humans.

"In terms of the fungus that it has – it is not only sexually transmitted between ladybirds but when they huddle together through the winter they can pass it on through contact," she said.

"But it is specific to the ladybird so it of no consequence whatsoever to humans.

"And in fact it's of very little consequence to the ladybirds either. They live with it living on them."

It is the over-lap of habitat and the harlequin's killer appetite causing the most population problems.

"They really like being in the same places and that's the challenge for the two-spot ladybird," explained Prof Foy.

"Those ladybirds also feed on aphids and the harlequins out-compete them.

"Also the harlequin ladybird has a very broad diet and will eat some of the other ladybirds. The two-spot ladybirds have this very high level of overlap in terms of where the two live."

Prof Foy said a whole variety of issues including climate change is thought to be responsible for declining numbers across the insect world.

"It is concerning because we're seeing these changes and know that in terms of a healthy functioning environment we need all these different species to be playing their part," she said.

People can help by sending records of ladybirds to the UK Ladybird Survey.

"Leaving messy patches of the garden can also be really useful," said Prof Foy.

"And in this hot weather insects can benefit from shallow dishes of water."

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