Looduskalendr in Vikerraadio: Ladybird

Submitted by Looduskalender on Wed, 08.08.2018 - 22:04

The author, Kristel Vilbaste, also presents texts in Vikerraadio.

Photo: Urmas Tartes

Translation into English by Maret 

Estonian text posted 24.07.2018

Seitsetäpp-lepatriinud joovad põldohaka mahla

Seven-spot ladybirds drinking the nectar of a creeping thistle


thistle We keep hearing from Pärnumaa (a county on the west coast of Estonia - M.), that the seaside is thick with ladybirds and the question is: what is causing this unprecedented occurrence?

People, who have frequented seasides know, that ladybirds by the seaside are not really such a rare happening. I remember well, that the year before I started school, I played with ladybirds on the beach at Kabli, and that all the beach dunes, bigger rocks and the tips of the reeds were full of them. When a tall wave happened to roll in, it was coloured red with ladybirds.

This year too, most of these sightings come from the area between Treiman and Valgeranna (beaches in Pärnumaa - M.). But such mass gatherings have also been seen on Osmussaar (an island off the north west coast of Estonia - M.) and I remember one year this century by Lake Peipus, where you just had to lift up a piece of wood to see the ground under it all red with ladybirds.

Just in case, I asked the entomologist Urmas Tartes, why such a thing would be happening, although I remember the explanation given years ago, that when we had so many ladybirds, they tended to gather on a “natural wall”. And Urmas told me, that ‘yes, that was the case’. But the real reason is, that there are many factors that just happened to coincide.

One of them is definitely, that this year the conditions were favourable for insects and thus we got so many ladybirds.

But then the dry weather destroyed the food for ladybirds  - aphids  - as the plants dried up and the aphid food was destroyed. So the carnivores of the insect world were left starving, having to look elsewhere for food.

Urmas tells me, that the ladybirds are really peculiar in that they they don’t drown easily in the salty seawater and thus a wave can throw masses of them back on the beach.

Why do they like to gather by the water? The reason could well be, that at the end of July the reeds by the water’s edge carry a lot of aphids, actually so many, that the warblers, too, seek them out and gorge themselves until they grow fat.

And when people, who lie on the beach complain, that the ladybirds bite, then we have to think of the reason why: they bite, because we hurt them by lying on them. My friend Illika tells me, that at the beginning of the 70-ies, when there were masses of ladybirds on the beach in Pärnu, they did bite, but only the adults, who did not know how to pick them up gently. They were great playmates for the children.

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