How to keep a ladybird – and why you might want to!

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The beautiful ladybird is more than just a pretty sight. These vibrant little creatures brighten up many a garden scene and do a fantastic job of munching on the aphids, mites and other scaly parasites that harm our plants. Ladybirds really are nature's best pest patrol and do a much better job of it than using harmful chemicals. In fact, over the course of a ladybird's 12 month lifespan it can consume 5,000 aphids! They're even imported by farmers and orchard growers to take care of outbursts of parasites that otherwise would be out of control and seriously affect crops. There are about 5,000 different species in the world and, despite what we fondly call them, they're actually a beetle. In the UK there are 46 kinds of these loveable bugs and around half of those look like the classic ladybird with shiny red wing casings adorned with black dots, while other types have stripes or patchy markings. Although they're so small ladybirds can travel up to an impressive 75 miles! Sadly, one type that has invaded Britain is the Asian Harlequin ladybird and it's gobbling up the eggs and larvae of our native varieties. Insecticides are also having a detrimental effect as it kills the critters that ladybirds like to eat. There have been reports of less than five being spotted in a garden in recent summers, and while we think that any decline in nature's numbers is a concern the good news is that you can help to protect and encourage these pretty garden helpers. If you'd like to to attract more of them to come and stay try planting fennel, dill, and coriander. They love pollen too so it's a good excuse to stock up on marigolds, sweet alyssum, and leaving garlic to flower. Letting dandelions flourish in an area of your garden will also help, as will leaving a patch of nettles to give them somewhere to lay their eggs during the spring months. They hatch in the summertime as a tiny grub and around August turn into the more recognisable, delightful, hard working adult beetle. Around November they trundle off to find their ancestral sleeping spot and huddle together for the winter when food becomes more scarce. If their usual places have been moved or destroyed you can offer them a ladybird hotel by leaving some logs out, or look online and in garden centres for ladybird homes to buy or even make! Once they wake up again in the springtime there's a little time for some procreation before carrying on going about their business