Ladybird Winter Diapause

posted in: Gardening | 25
this is an image of a ladybird pausing during the winter
Have you ever wondered how a little ladybird survives a Scottish winter?  It's a survival technique called Ladybird Winter diapause and you can read more about it below. 

 

You can feel that winter has finally made its presence felt in the garden.

 

It's the time of year when you realise that wellie boots are not the best item of footwear to wear while out in the garden. There's nothing worse than numb cold toes to entice you back indoors to the heat!

 

At the weekend I wrapped myself up in lots of warm layers. I put on 3 pairs of thick socks - in wellie boots much too big for me. Two pairs of trousers, a hat with ear muffs, gloves, snood and coat. Indeed very well prepared!  Just like the ladybirds in my garden.
 
The Jelena witchhazel and a few hellebores were in flower though my intention was to take some abstract shots rather than flowers.
 

Decaying flower stems are good subjects to make into nature photo montages ...as you do when there's little else to photograph.  

...but what I ended up photographing was entirely unexpected!
this is an image of a cerise pink hellebore and orange witchhazel Jelena flowers on a twig
even the winter flowers can be somewhat colour co-ordinated ...P'orange - purple and orange!

If you were a ladybird where would you spend the winter?

 

These Shasta daisy seed heads looked very insignificant but I knew I could do something arty with them.  As I scanned over the seed heads and stems something caught my attention.

 

Look closely at the stems ...what do you see?

 

Now those of you who follow me especially on social media know how much I LOVE to photograph ladybirds.

 

Did I feel the cold after this discovery? no way ...not when there's a ladybird to distract me! 

this is an image of a ladybird on a shasta daisy seedhead in January
ladybird winter diapause

The adrenalin started flowing. Talk about getting excited over very little! Out of the garage came the stool, the reflector and the tripod and at one point I even lay on the snow to get a few of the shots. That rush of chemicals into my bloodstream must have kept me warm!

this is a ladybird in diapause

this is a ladybird in a state of dormancy

 

Ladybird Winter Diapause

 
These beetles go into dormancy (diapause) over the winter. Their survival depends on the body weight they've accumulated through foraging over the year.

They take a pause ...a ladybird winter diapause ...until conditions improve! 

I've written before about the natural antifreeze that plants like snowdrops produce but some insects like these beetles also produce a type of antifreeze from the sugars in their system i.e glycerol, sorbitol, mannitol.  These chemicals increase in their system over the autumn and decrease at the end of winter. The chemicals lower the freezing point to protect their cells and tissue. Thus preventing their body fluids from freezing.  Once the temperatures reach 13c they like the bees start to become active again.
 
 
Why do you think this little ladybird has decided to 'over winter' on the top of a Leucanthemum seedhead in a north facing border?   ...puzzling huh!
 
this is a ladybird in diapause on a shasta seed head

this is an image of a ladybird on a shasta daisy seedhead

If you were a ladybird where would you retreat to during the winter in your garden?

If I was a ladybird ...

I'd pick a south facing position nestled under some leaves. Or even in my Lacewing hotel or my bamboo bug hotel.  But no this little chap is a loner and a brave one too. If we believe what the weather forecasters are predicting we've got double digit minus figures on the way (-11c to -14c / 12.8f to 6.8f). That's cold for us and it reminds me of the temperatures we had back in 2009/2010 winters.  Brrrrh!

 
I wish this little beetle would move somewhere much warmer. Should I move it ... but I know that I shouldn't. No I won't ... though maybe I'll throw some horticultural fleece over the plant if the temperature really plummets like the forecasters predict. Here's hoping that he or she knows better than me and can tough-it-out this winter with the reserves it's got stored already.

 
Here's what the Shasta daisy clump looks like at the minute.

this is a collage of the shasta daisy seedheads not cut down to give a home to the ladybirds over the winter
Shasta daisy seed heads on a snowy January day
Let's be honest it looks like a total mess to most observers but to me it's the perfect winter retreat for hibernating insects.  I never take away the dying stems until early spring. Usually I leave them on the ground for awhile just in case any insects are a bit reluctant to leave their sleepy hollows in early spring.
Rosie Nixon
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Rosie is a passionate wildlife gardener in Scotland, a Perthshire / Tayside flower and garden photographer and writer. She enjoys soaking up nature in her own garden and is easily distracted from doing the weeding by anything that buzzes, creeps, crawls or flutters. She enjoys sharing the beauty of creation through her photography.

Rosie Nixon
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25 Responses

  1. Bloody hell Rosie what stunning photographs! I do have a soft spot for our spotted ladies and have put up some bug hotels in the hope of giving them, and other bugs, somewhere to shelter. Reading up I was advised to place them South facing so perhaps your Ladybird has lost her compass?

  2. The droplets on the Shasta daisy look like little ladybirds too with unique markings 😉

  3. Rosie your ladybird shots are as wonderful as ever, but that last of the Shasta Daisy reflections is just amazing!

  4. Lovely photos – what a great surprise for you to find that ladybird. The refraction photo is wonderful too.

  5. I have never seen a ladybug this time of the year. And your photography is so amazing. But more interesting is your discussion on insect antifreeze which I have never heart. Very interesting. I hope it survives the winter. Will you be keeping an eye on it?

  6. Beautiful abstract images Rosie.

  7. Fantastic post! The winter flowers are pretty but I know and totally get the excitement of finding the ladybird in the most unexpected of places! The images are all really attractive with the natural decay. I despair looking at the 'mess' at this time of year, but as you know I don't tidy up yet either, just for our buggy friends. Like what you did do with the stems at the end. 🙂

  8. What a surprise find! In my garden I suspect the lady bugs are dead. I can't imagine them snuggled up among the dead stems of my perennials since they have long disappeared beneath 2 feet of snow and ice 🙂

  9. Love your ladybird shots, but lime Jessica, it is the Shasta daisy photo with all those perfect mini reflections that drew my eye.

  10. I'll look at the mess of shasta daisies in my garden in a different light from now on, Rosie. Stunning photos. P. x

  11. Spotting ladybirds in the garden always gets a reaction, in Winter I would sneak indoors enjoy the central heating provided by you humans.

  12. Wow i learned a lot about coccinelids from just one post. And i didn't know they can live through winter, that dome can be a very good protector maybe! I have been out for a long time but i am back. I can't imagine how winter feels like but when it was 6-8C in NZealand i had to wear socks and bonnets/beanies, thermal shirt at night. I guess these temps are just nothing for people like you, and the ladybird.

  13. I'm fascinated by your Ladybird, Rosie. Very strange. I had a total surprise on New Year's Eve when we watched a furry moth caterpillar (Wild and Wonderful, posted on 21 Jan 2015) humping about near the frosted stems at Sutton Hoo. That seemed very strange, too. Your photography is superb!

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