A swarm of ladybirds have now made their way to Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire after invading the UK from Asia and North America.
Huge numbers of the insects were originally reported in the Greater Manchester area but it seems they are now heading south with StokeonTrentLive readers claiming to have seen ‘hundreds’ in their gardens.
One concerned resident said: “My house is absolutely full of ladybirds – they’re everywhere. They’re not the normal cute ones either, they look a bit sinister.”
Called ‘Harlequin ladybirds’, the flying insects with black wings are rumoured to carry a sexually-transmitted infection known as Laboulbeniales fungal disease, the MEN reports.
Scientists have also dubbed the animal Britain’s most invasive species, as it preys on seven native ladybirds – including the common two-spot.
People in Stoke-on-Trent have been taking to social media to share their ladybird-related woe.
The Liverpool Echo has compiled a list of everything you should need to know about the insects – from where they have come from, what exactly they are and how to get rid of them in your home.
What are the insects?
They are a species called Harmonia axyridis, otherwise known as Harlequin ladybirds.
It is a varied species which carries a large range of colours and they can have red, orange and yellow-ish markings.
The harlequin is regarded as the most invasive ladybird species on earth.
It is larger and more aggressive than other ladybirds and will even eat them.
Do the ladybirds carry STDs?
Yes – but not in the way you might think. The ladybirds carry a disease called Laboulbeniales which is a form of fungi.
It isn’t known exactly what effect it has on the bugs but it causes yellow finger-like growths.
Scientists say the fungus, which is passed on through mating, will infect our native species, which are already under threat from habitat loss.
While they don’t yet know if the fungus is harmful, the UK Ladybird Survey says it is possible that the disease affects the lifespan or the number of eggs a female can produce over her lifespan.
Laboulbeniales can also occur in other bugs but is a common infection for ladybirds.
It is spread through close contact during mating and can also be passed on if the bugs huddle close together.
Can humans catch the STDs?
No – the disease can’t be passed on to humans. Laboulbeniales is also not harmful to humans.
Why is it a threat, then?
Harlequin ladybirds carrying the disease could greatly affect our native bugs by passing on the fungus.
And, as the population of the insects is already dwindling, it could lead to the numbers falling even more.
It isn’t known exactly how it will affect them but it could be dangerous to their health.
The bugs can also leave behind a nasty chemical smell in the home. They can also crawl over your furniture, leaving unsightly stains.
Why are there so many ladybugs this year?
Swarms of the insects have come from overseas and have been spotted in big groups in homes, gardens and out and about.
They are mainly migrating from Asia and North America.
Where did they come from?
Most Harlequins come from Asia but they are also migrating from North America.
Although the species has been in the UK since 2004, the population has recently grown and has become more noticeable.
When did they arrive in the UK?
It was first introduced to the USA in 1916 and has rapidly invaded parts of Canada, most of Europe, and a few South American and Southern and North African countries.
The harlequin ladybird arrived in the UK in 2004. It was first introduced in Essex, and has since made its way as far as Cornwall and the Shetland Islands.
Since being introduced to Russia in 2010, it has expanded its range southwards by 186 miles a year.
Are black ladybirds poisonous?
No, black ladybirds aren’t poisonous to humans or pets. They are just another colour from the same species.
Do ladybirds bite?
They could do. According to experts, if hungry, the bugs could bite humans.
When hungry, harlequin ladybirds will bite humans in their search for something edible.
Ladybirds in houses, woken from dormancy by central heating, may bite people as there is no food available.
The bites usually produce a small bump and sting slightly.
However, there are a few documented cases of people having a severe allergic reaction to harlequin ladybirds.
How do you get rid of ladybirds?
Experts advise that the best and most humane way to remove them from your home is with a glass and a piece of card.
The bugs carry a chemical that, if it touches a surface, could ruin furniture. So it’s probably best not to crush them.