Encounters with a seven-spotted friend

For anyone working with children the word ‘minibeast’ needs no explaining – the world of invertebrate animals such as snails, woodlouse and centipedes holds a limitless fascination for children, and adults too! Minibeasts are therefore the perfect topic to study life cycles.

Children are very familiar with how caterpillars change into butterflies but another four-stage wonder are ladybirds. In the UK there are 46 different types of ladybirds and many species found in the New Forest can also be found in school grounds, including the seven-spot and fourteen-spot ladybird.

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Different stages of the ladybird life cycle

Eggs are laid in May, and in June the newly hatched larvae are easy for children to spot –  although the 6 legged larva does not look anything like its parent! It has a dark grey/blue body with white, black or orange markings.

Ladybird larvae 1
Ladybird larva on the hunt for an aphid snack

Ladybird larvae are predators which makes them exciting to watch as they like to eat lots of aphids. If your school has a vegetable garden, broad bean plants are often infested with blackfly and are good places to look for ladybird larvae. The larval stage lasts for 3-5 weeks and they will often pupate on the same plant which helps children visually follow the stages of change.

There are lots of follow up activities that can be explored:

  • Ladybirds hibernate in dying vegetation, so ladybird shelters could be made by children and put in flower bed borders around the school grounds. These can be small open fronted wooden boxes with a bundle of hollow plant stem inside, such as angelica and fennel.
  • Create ‘ladybird friendly’ areas. Leave patches of nettles  – the nettle aphid is a favourite food for hungry ladybirds coming out of hibernation.
  • Make a Ladybird Hunt worksheet to find ladybirds around the school grounds – which habitats were they found, types of ladybird and life-cycle stage.
  • Lots of opportunity for counting and symmetry of ladybird spots.

Happy hunting!

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