During the last gite changeover, I had, sadly, to vac up a lot of dead ladybirds off one of the windowsills. It’s the time of year that they start to wander indoors, looking for somewhere cosy to spend the winter. I’m not sure why this lot all perished.
When I told Ruadhri about my discovery, he immediately wanted to know if they were coccinelles asiatiques – Asian ladybirds. He went on to tell me all about these insects which he’d recently read about in his Mon Quotidien magazine. I was fascinated. I had no idea we were being invaded.
I’ve done a bit more research myself and here are a few facts about these imported ladybirds. And that’s exactly what they are. Back in 1982, some bright spark had the idea of introducing this species of ladybird to France to help keep the numbers of pucerons, aphids, down. Coccinelles asiatiques, Latin name harmonia axyridis, have particularly voracious appetites and breed enthusiastically. Originally they were confined to greenhouses where they were studied, but they were released on the general public in 1995 when a company commercialised them and made the larvae available to gardeners. Oh boy. They are rapidly becoming the dominant species of ladybird in France now. They’ve already taken Belgium over. They’ve made it into Switzerland, Holland, Luxembourg, Germany and Great Britain too. When food runs short, they turn to eating the larvae of other species, and especially of other ladybirds, so there is a very real risk of some indigenous European varieties being wiped out.
Asian ladybirds are big, and come in a variety of colours – anything from yellow, to red with all sorts of patterns of black spots, including cats-paw shaped ones, to black with red spots. It’s apparently quite tricky to distinguish them from our native French varieties.
There’s an interesting and informative website (in French) all about them here. It has lots of photos, maps showing how harmonia axyridis has spread from the north through a good chunk of the country now, and contact names for people in charge of keeping an eye open for these critters in each région of France.
I’d always taken ladybirds for granted up to now, but I’ll be looking at them a bit more carefully to see if the Asian variety has arrived at Les Fragnes yet.