Invasive Ladybug Species in the UK Carries Sexually Transmitted Disease UPDATE

Pest experts this week warned residents of the United Kingdom to seal their homes and other structures as quickly as possible to prevent ladybugs in the area from overwintering indoors. UK citizens and visitors have started to notice swarms of ladybugs outside and inside of homes and offices, especially at warm spots on windows and near lamp fixtures.

Ladybugs, or ladybirds as they’re called in the UK, are a problem because populations of a particular species can spread a fungal sexually transmitted disease known as Laboulbeniales to native ladybugs and other insects. The ladybugs in this case are specifically a foreign Harlequin variety known as Harmonia axyridis that invaded the region from Asia and the United States in 2004.

Although many news outlets have reported that these pests have only black wings with red spots, Asian ladybugs typically have orange or red wings. They’re spots can vary from none at all to many, closely-spaced black rows of spots.

Ladybirds and Harlequin ladybirds
Ladybirds and Harlequin ladybirds

Laboulbeniales primarily spreads when ladybugs mate, but it can also spread when an infected ladybug is within close proximity of other ladybugs and insects. There’s no way to recognize the initial infection of this STD fungus.

As it grows, yellowish growths eventually form outside of the ladybug’s body. Experts fear that the spread of infected Harmonia axyridis might lead to the total destruction of local, native species. Humans don’t need to worry about becoming infected with this particular sexually transmitted disease. Although humans often infect each other with fungal STDs like Candida albicans, for example, Laboulbeniales only transfers to insects.

That said, a human carrying a fungal spore on their skin from contact with an infected ladybug could accidentally infect another insect species. The eggs of the Harlequin ladybug can also carry the fungal infection.

Additionally, Asian lady beetles eat other insect species, including declining populations of native ladybugs. Any type of ladybug infestation can also make a home or office uncomfortable since they often leave stains on surfaces and create bad odors. In structures that contain electric space heaters, these ladybugs become a fire risk because of their tendency to crawl too close to heating elements.

Marie Bram

Marie Bram started working for Spruce Tribune in 2017. Marie grew up in a small town in northern Manitoba. But moved to Ontario for university. Before joining Spruce Tribune, Marie briefly worked as a freelance journalist for CBC News.  She covers politics and the economy.

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