Sussex names for ladybirds

The humble ladybird.
The humble ladybird.

ROUSER has some highly specialised readers. Take Rory Post of Lewes for instance.

He writes: “I always enjoy your pages in the Sussex Express and in the January 7 edition I was delighted to see your list of Sussex names for ladybirds, which I suppose came from Parish’s Dictionary of Sussex Dialect.

“I live in Lewes, but I work in the Entomology Department of the Natural History Museum, and you might be interested in the supposed origin of the name ‘ladybird’.

“Ladybird is said to be a shortening of Our Lady’s Bird – Our Lady being the Virgin Mary, of course.

“The first known use of ladybird as a name is towards the end of the 16th century. The Virgin Mary was often painted in a red cloak or red habit and the spots of the common seven-spot ladybird are said to correspond to her ‘seven sorrows’ or ‘seven joys’.

“This proposed origin may be true. The Germans call ladybirds Marienkäferen (Mary’s beetles), but there seems to be a more general association with the sacred.

“The Dutch call ladybirds lieveheersbeestjes (Lord’s bugs) and, although modern Norwegians now call them marihønen (Mary hens), the Vikings used to call them freyjuhœnan (Freya hens) after Freya, the Norse Goddess of love and gold.

“And that neatly brings us back to Sussex, because the golding in Flygolding was a gold coin. Nobody really knows why there were these sacred associations, but one theory points out that ladybirds are conspicuously avoided by predators, because they have chemical defenses, which might give the appearance of divine protection.”

Thanks Rory. Rouser has always sought for an insect correspondent.