A spot of research today set me on the right path, hope it’s helpful to you too if you like our spotted friends and want to give them a helping hand over the cold winter months…..
Firstly it’s no good for them to stay indoors. It’s too warm and they wake up from hibernation way before their usual March or April, find no natural aphid snacks available and simply starve to death. In September, I bought an insect house like the one below, positioned it in a sheltered flowerbed and have been popping errant ladybirds into there but have no idea whether they’re staying in it! I read a good tip today – always coax ladybirds into a container or onto your finger with a soft make-up or paint brush as it’s really easy to damage them if you try picking them up with ungainly fingers. As you can see from the lifecycle diagram, they really shouldn’t be partying in the Christmas season, but we’ve had such a mild winter that they’re a bit confused.
This is a great tip on http://www.uksafari.com/ and is “probably the cheapest way of providing a temporary shelter for beneficial insects like ladybirds and lacewings during the cold winter months. (Nice idea to do with the kids too)
Simply take an empty plastic drinks bottle (the 2 litre size is ideal) and cut the spout end off with a pair of sharp scissors (kids get a grown up to do this for you).
Next find a length of corrugated cardboard, or cut an old cardboard box into strips. For a two litre bottle they need to be around 8 inches (20cm) deep. It doesn’t need to be accurate. Roll up the cardboard and stuff it into the plastic bottle making sure there are gaps for the insects to come and go freely. Also ensure that the cardboard is sitting well inside the bottle with none of the cardboard left hanging out. If it gets damp the insects won’t use it.
Finally mount your hotel in a tree or shrub or on a south facing wall using cable ties or string. Make sure the open end is pointing slightly downwards to allow any moisture to drain out.”
If you haven’t got an ‘official’ ladybird hotel, just pop them in an outside shed or other frost free, sheltered place where they won’t be disturbed (or eaten!) before Spring.