A LADYBIRD that has already outcompeted many of North America‘s native ladybirds has been found in the UK.

The harlequin or multi-coloured ladybug (Harmonia axyridis) was seen at an Essex pub on September 19.

The species poses a “deadly threat” to butterflies, lacewings and many other ladybirds, said Cambridge University‘s Michael Majerus.

“I knew it was on its way, but I hoped that it wouldn‘t be so soon,” he told BBC News.

“Now many of our ladybirds will be in direct competition with this aggressively invasive species and some will simply not cope.”

But, it is still too early to say how big the threat this species poses to UK insect populations, believes Richard Harrington from Rothamsted.

Any threat will be based on the ladybird‘s performance in North America. It is still quite early to say how this particular species will survive in the UK climate, he said.

“It is outcompeting pretty much all of the aphid-feeding native American ladybirds which are going through anything from a slight to a very, very serious decline,” said Dr Majerus.

Harlequin ladybirds are still sold in both North America and Continental Europe by biocontrol companies, he noted.

Adults are slightly larger than native UK ladybirds, at around 7mm long. They can be found in a range of colours, such as black with bold red spots, or orange with a checked pattern.

Dr Majerus urges anyone who finds the insect to send it to him with precise details of where it was found.

For pictures of the harlequin ladybird, visit the Holt Studios photograph library.