7-spot ladybird

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Sunday 3rd September 2000, West Yorkshire
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My book on the history of the wood SUNDAY is so BLAAEERGG! peaceful here overlooking the BLAAEERGG! . . phut . . . phut . . . phut . . . phut wood PWOOWWRR. But I do wish they wouldn't ride those motorbikes over the woodland floor. In spring, it was once a carpet of Bluebells but now narrow paths have been eroded into scars and scars have joined up to leave a big area of compacted clay subsoil, scattered with a few plastic bags and drinks cans.

I wish you could have seen it as it was.
spider and ladybird A small brown Spider, its body no bigger than a wheat grain, runs out from its lair to see what has landed in its orb web. The web is slung beneath the bird table. It has a span no wider that the palm of your hand. To me, and, it seems, for the Two-spot Ladybird that has just blundered into it, the web is on the edge of visibility.

The spider takes just one taste to decide that - 'Yukk!' - whatever this is it won't be eating it for breakfast. The bright colouring of the ladybird is a warning that it is distasteful, but this is wasted on the orb spider which locates its prey by the vibrations on its web, not by sight.

two-spot ladybird I rescue the ladybird and put it down on the patio table in front of us. It immediately deposits a small patch of yellowish liquid then trundles off to the edge of the table. Apparently it hasn't suffered from the spider's bite (if the spider got as far as biting it that is), nor is it tangled in sticky silk. It starts to groom, sitting up on its hind legs to rub its 'face' with its 'arms'. It look cute, like a squirrel eating a nut. It grooms with its back legs, then lifts ladybird groomingits wing cases and stretches out its lustrous, slightly smokey brown wings, one after the other. The wings fold outwards, so that they are almost twice the length of its body.

Each time I plonk my mug of tea back down on the table it instantly stops whatever it is doing and flattens itself against the table top. Then three or four seconds later it resumes its grooming and flight-check.

ladybird flyingIt seems to be having some difficulty with its starboard wing. It tries to take off from the edge of the table, but aborts and turns back. For a while it seems to sit fairly still, as if something is amiss. Then suddenly it's off, a most unlikely flying machine, with its wing cases slightly raised and those smokey wings stretched out and almost a blur.

spider in waitingI take a look at the spider. It sits in a roughly constructed silken hammock in the angle under the bird table, one arm trailing down, just touching a silken line attached near the centre of its web, like Huckleberry Finn angling for catfish.

Richard Bell

Richard Bell,
wildlife illustrator

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