Ladybird invasion at church

FORGET bats in the belfry.

A swarm of foreign ladybirds has found a new home in the rafters of Jevington Church.

The harlequin ladybirds are dropping into the church tower through gaps in the beams.

Ty have been known to bite humans and eat the common British ladybird.

Rosalind Hodge, secretary and archivist, said churchgoers first noticed the bugs in the Autumn.

She added: 'No one has been bitten but we have had them crawling about on us.

'Some get in the main church area itself but most of them are at the top of the tower.

'We have hundreds but it is something you put up with in a rural area.

'They are not really causing a problem but large numbers are found dead on the tower carpet.

'We just have to vacuum them up.'

One church member found clusters of the bugs in the landing of her nearby cottage.

It is not the first time Jevington church has experienced a ladybird invasion.

In 1976 a cloud of native seven-spot ladybirds headed for the Saxon building after a drought.

Many villagers were nipped by the bugs.

The church is surrounded by wildlife. Bees, badgers and moles are regular visitors.

Laura Bristow from the Sussex Wildlife Trust said harlequin sightings were on the increase.

She said: 'People call them aggressive and they are bigger than native ladybirds.

'There are reports of them biting people but often that is a result of dehydration after they hibernate.

'Harlequins have barbs on their legs which can go into human skin.

'It is not something for people to be concerned about.'

Harlequins came to Britain from Asia via North America.

Experts are divided about whether the bugs were first seen in Kent or a pub in Surrey in 2004.

It is thought they hopped on plants or flowers packed in ships and then crossed the Atlantic to get here.

This year the harlequin invasion is expected to reach the Scottish Highlands.

Laura Bristow added: 'They are definitely spreading and there is no known method of control.'

Harlequins are better than their British counterparts at catching aphids (little bugs) to eat.

They stain window sills with a yellow liquid, which smells of ammonia, the main chemical found in urine.

The insects are described as larger and rounder than native ladybirds.

They can be red, orange or black with 15 to 21 spots, or black with two to four large orange or red spots.

To track sightings of the harlequins visit www.harlequin-survery.org.

Email your sitings to sussex.express@sussexnewspapers.co.uk or comment below.

In your story Bumper Year for Big Cat you state: "These include the black leopard (incorrectly called the panther), the puma and the lynx."

In fact, the black or melanistic form of the leopard IS called a panther. Most confusion is between the puma - a brownish big cat from America - and the panther, the black leopard found in Africa and in Asia.

Mark Williams