Did you know that some ladybirds are dangerous to humans and might sue you?

LadybirdI have always loved ladybirds. I grew up repeating a nursery rhyme about them whenever I saw these insects in the garden (but never really understood the line about their house being on fire).

Gardeners know that the common spotted ladybird (pictured) eats other bugs such as aphids and scale insects and is a great form of natural pest control. Some ladybirds even eat mildew fungus. And the mealy bug ladybird was apparently exported to the US in 1891 to save the Californian citrus industry from a mealy bug plague.

This great video says that ladybirds are one of the few insects that people aren’t afraid of – but warns Australians to look out for an Asian ladybird that is a potential invader and bites humans.*

These ‘evil’ harlequin ladybirds apparently eat their nice cousins as well as other beneficial bugs such as lacewings, and can cause an allergic reaction in humans. Their numbers are sometimes so high in the UK that they end up swarming in homes, and may decimate the other ladybird populations in the future.

Harlequin ladybirds have already been intercepted trying to enter Australia. Forget the boats – let’s make sure we ‘stop the bugs’!


As if that wasn’t scary enough, now it turns out that ladybirds (and penguins for that matter) might sue you!

An artist, Miriam Elia, has published an amusing, if somewhat confronting, take on Ladybird Books’ Peter and Jane series but has had to stop selling her artwork while she settles a legal dispute with the owner, Penguin Books. Her work is called ‘We go to the gallery’ and features Mummy, Peter and Jane going to a modern art exhibition. (See this post for details.)

I have many fond memories of learning to read with Peter and Jane in primary school. The BBC even screened a nostalgic TV series last December called ‘The Ladybird Books Story: How Britain Got the Reading Bug’: (See here for a short clip about Ladybirdland.)

‘To millions of people, Ladybird books were as much a part of childhood as battery-powered torches and warm school milk. These now iconic pocket-sized books once informed us on such diverse subjects as how magnets work, what to look for in winter and how to make decorations out of old eggshells. But they also helped to teach many of us to read via a unique literacy scheme known as ‘key words’. Ladybird books were also a visual treat – some of the best-known contemporary illustrators were recruited to provide images which today provide a perfect snapshot of the lost world of Ladybirdland: a place that is forever the gloriously ordinary, orderly 1950s.’

Although Peter and Jane books became more politically correct over the decades, they always retained the same basic idea of teaching kids through the repetition of key words. By the time I was reading Peter & Jane books, Daddy was doing the dishes and Mummy may even have gone to work!

(See this site about Peter & Jane key word series or here for an interesting history of Ladybird books and their founder.)

It is hard to know if Penguin is simply upset because of a straightforward breach of copyright or more specifically because of the type of content (sex, death and religion etc) and its blatant attack on some forms of modern art.

Obviously I have no idea about the nature of the dispute or any of the details. However, I note that other people have published spoofs before (such as this – where the author claims that ‘imitation is the finest compliment’) and do not appear to caused such a reaction.

Some cultures believe it is unlucky to kill a ladybird. It is also very unlucky to fall prey to the might of powerful multinationals high up in the food chain. I sure hope the artist has not published an illustrated parody of any Harlequin (romance) novels or she may really be in trouble.


PS It was hard to find a song to suit this post – but if you are game, try Ladybird (supposedly Latvia’s answer to Kylie Minogue) singing ‘Dangerous to me’.

[See this post for an update]


* Yes, I work for the organisation that is quoted in the Catalyst video but am not involved in any of this research and take absolutely no credit.

Photo credit (& copyright): Jon Sullivan (PD Photos.org released into the public domain via english Wikipedia) 


Categories: Biodiversity

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11 replies

  1. PS I received a question about what harlequin ladybirds look like. They are amazingly diverse. Wikipedia says ‘Its colour ranges from yellow-orange to black, and the number of spots between none and 22.’ Here are some examples: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Harmonia_axyridis01.jpg

  2. I grew up loving ladybirds as they are so cute …. then here in Sicily I encouraged my son to pick up up and the bloody thing bit me! It REALLY hurt! English ladybirds do NOT bite. 🙂

    I looked up some of Miriam Elia’s pictures as you got me intrigued. I think they are very witty, even though they made me feel uncomfortable, and she uses the Ladybird book format to make her point, rather than to make fun of the genre. But I think they want to protect their brand as a clean, wholesome product and feel that she undermines it.

  3. I just couldn’t believe that ladybirds can be so dangerous! No one will believe because they look so beautiful and harmless. I liked the valuable and interesting details you provided.


  1. Artist’s spoof Ladybird book provokes wrath of Penguin
  2. We play in the garden – where art meets the corporate world « Pip Marks
  3. Post script re ladybirds, dung beetles & cane toads «

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