On a frosty walk through the woods, a momentary stop to appreciate the clarity of the day drew my eye to the south-facing trunk of a struggling ash tree.
It was covered from top to toe in what I thought was some sort of fungus but on closer inspection it turned out to be clusters and clusters of tiny ladybirds.
I’d never seen such a thing before and being late December I was immediately concerned for their future. Whilst temperature where mild – around 10C – I assumed they had come out of hibernation early after the previous week saw temperatures below freezing for seven consecutive days.
I walked back to the house pondering what on earth they were. They were small and beige. I wondered if they were native or invasive, juvenile or fully grown, perfectly fine or in grave danger.
I took to the internet and and after plentiful research and help from the glorious online community, I’d identified them as 16-spot ladybirds – or Tytthaspis sedecimpunctata.
The often-overlooked beige beetles have 13-18 black spots, are only about 3mm long and their main distinguishing feature is their black centre line (only shared with the 14 spot ladybird).
They are most abundant in the south of England in the summer but they over winter in large clusters, often in grassland and meadows, low herbage, gorse, plant litter, on fence posts, tree trunks and stone walls.
And, here they were in South Norfolk on a south-facing ash, surrounded and protected by other large trees and hedgerows.
My research reassured me that they were where they should be but, I have somewhat taken them under my wing with regular checks made on the farm’s thousands of new inhabitants.
A few days after I discovered them I was astounded to see them still in place after a night of howling winds and horizontal rain. How could such tiny, delicate creatures withstand it I wondered. But, their resilience is probably exactly due to their size, number and placing.
Now, nearly three weeks later – through sleet, hail, tonnes of rain and ferocious winds, they remain in hibernation just as I found them.
This morning they looked as if they were basking in the low winter rays of sunshine as frost blanketed every blade of grass and ice hung from each branch, twig and leaf.
As it happens there are 26 types of ladybird in the UK, all of which belong to the family of beetles known as Coccinellidae, of which there are at least 3,500 species worldwide.
I often see solitary ladybirds in the winter – the common red 7 spot – hibernating in window frames and secluded spaces but it’s still rather wonderful to see the sight of the 16 spots, knowing a little bit more about them and their habitat.
This morning, on the second walk of the day, I took to holding my head up high, taking the time and interest to be more aware of the wildlife around me. Nature is a truly wonderful thing…