The collective noun for ladybirds might be “a loveliness,” but there’s nothing lovely about the little blighters which have invaded Britain.
Harlequin ladybirds eat their native rivals, are infected by a sexually transmitted disease and leave behind a nasty pong if they get in your house.
And the killer aliens are here in Lancashire, as Preston Golf Club greenkeeper Dan Ibison discovered.
Dan was out on the course in Fulwood when he stumbled on a plague of the bullboy bugs which had settled on a dead tree trunk.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” confessed Dan. “They were flying all over the golf course from around 11am one day when it was warm.
“They were landing on everything, including other staff members and golfers. But they seemed to be particularly attracted to a dead tree which was crawling in them.
“The main area where they were gathering was around the 10th green which is a bit of a sun-trap.”
The invasion of the cannibal killers is not a new phenomenom. Originally from Asia, Harlequins were first spotted in Essex in 2004, blown in over from France. Observers say they have now spread their wings to most parts of Britain.
While our homegrown ladybirds – there are 46 different types in the UK including the most common seven-spotted variety – tend to settle on plants, the Harlequins prefer to live on or near trees.
Many of the foreign invaders have distinctive black wings with red spots, although they also come in a range of other colours and can look very similar to the indigenous ladybird population.
Helen Roy from the UK Ladybird Survey, said: “The Harlequin numbers are quite high this year. They built up in large numbers over summer, so we expected to see high numbers reported as they entered people’s houses to spend the cold winter months.”
Ladybirds in general have seen a population explosion this year – something which typically happens about once every 15 years.
Back in drought-hit 1976 it was estimated there were 23 billion of them swarming around the south and east coasts looking for food. Usually they are well-liked by gardeners because they feed on aphids which damage plants.
Scientists have been quick to assure the public that the “STD” they carry – which is really a fungus – is not harmful to humans.
Scores of people have been reporting ladybirds inside their homes in recent weeks, mainly around window frames.