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Dublin: 8°C Wednesday 27 January 2021

Invasion! How ladybirds have taken over Christmas trees this year

It’s partly down to the heatwave during the summer, apparently.

Christmas tree invader posed by model
Christmas tree invader posed by model
Image: Ladybird via Shutterstock

AS INVASIONS GO, it’s a pretty stealthy one.

If you bought a real Christmas tree this year, you may have noticed some little visitors came along for the ride.

An unusually high number of ladybirds, which are usually found during the summer months, have been popping up in trees around the country.

People have been recording their findings on Twitter, with one user tweeting: “Look what we just found under the Christmas tree lights! A little ladybird in December”. Another person found more than one: “[T]he crushed ladybird is on the floor; I have to prove to my dad that our house is infested and some ladybirds came in on the christmas tree”.

Even Christmas tree sellers have been taken by surprise.

“We’ve never seen this happening before,” says Justin Morton from Killakee Christmas Tree Farm in Dublin 16. “Generally we very seldom see any ladybirds [on the trees] once September comes around and we’d never see one in a cut tree. But this year we’ve seen loads of them”.

The numbers vary, Justin says. “Some trees you might see one on them and then on others you might see 20″.

So what’s going on? Are ladybirds planning to take over? Have our winters got so mild that animals can’t tell what season it is any more?

imageA ladybird on a Christmas tree in Dublin. (Pic: sophietennant/Instagram)

“It’s a mixture of things,” says Billy Flynn, an ecologist and a director of the Irish Wildlife Trust.

Ladybirds have to hibernate in the winter and Christmas trees makes for a natural habitat as they provide somewhere cosy and safe to hide out.

“If people look carefully, they’ll see that the ladybirds are most likely to be found in the most sheltered part of the tree,” Billy explains.

“What’s happening is people are transporting a ladybird habitat into their homes when they get a Christmas tree, and it’s the only time of the year you’d do that, so you’re bringing hibernating ladybirds into the house”.

So that explains why ladybirds like Christmas trees – but why so many of them? Billy says that the unusually warm summer means that many more ladybirds survived this year than usually would, which means their numbers are up.

“Ladybirds live a relatively long time compared to other beetles, but a  lot would usually die off from the cold once the weather turns. Their body temperature is dependent on the outside conditions, so when temperatures get really low, they will either go into hibernation, or they will die – which is why they have to hibernate somewhere sheltered”.

“Because our summer was good it, it’s likely that their numbers would be up because more of them would have made it through to this late stage”.

Flynn also points out that part of the reason there may seem to be so many more ladybirds around this winter may be simply that people are now more likely to talk about it.

“People communicate more now. In the past, if something like this happened, people wouldn’t think it was worth mentioning, but now people have social media and can take a quick photograph,” he says.

So what to do if you find a load of ladybirds in your Christmas tree? “If people want to be kind and humane, they could put the ladybirds somewhere outside that’s sheltered,” says Billy Flynn. “A tree or a shed or anywhere where they can continue to hibernate and be sheltered from the worst of the weather”.

So there you go: ladybird mystery solved.

“It’s Mother Nature at work,” says Justin Morton. “We had one customer call asking if we’d put them in the trees but no, it’s just nature doing what it does”.

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