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The Harlequin Ladybird and Other Animals
on 20 March 2014
During the winter of 2013, I noticed that the upper walls in the bedrooms of my house had acquired strange "cornices" - like large red-black buttons - further investigation revealed these to be clusters of hibernating ladybirds - and their slightly unladybird-like spot patterns and colours led me to identify them as Harlequins, one of the alien species reported to be larger and more aggressive than our shyer, more gentle native species, and a typical subject of this fascinating book by Dr Ken Thompson, a research ecologist who has brought his expert eye to the history, development, sociology and culture of this fascinating topic. The book is highly readable and informative (though I could do with not knowing so much about pubic lice, I'd have welcomed some discussion of grey squirrels, which don't get a mention!), and the author weaves the themes of politics, human behaviour and changing attitudes to biodiversity and conservation which helps explain the often contradictory attitudes we adopt to the invaders (often depending on the cuteness and furriness of the interloper). Thompson himself wades into the debate, coming down on the side of some unlikely species (pipe-clogging zebra mussels in power stations are efficient water purifiers for instance). I'm all for his suggestion of introducing yet another alien, the endangered Iberian lynx to sort out those pesky Spanish (or are they?) rabbits, but it may have consequences!
By the end of the book I was applauding Dr Thompsons lambasting of our irrationality, whilst at the same time realising that as a keen gardener, I'm definitely in the dock (as are we all) in the way our modern life multiplies and accelerates these conflicts.
... and the Ladybirds (or evil cold-blooded killers as Rentokil somewhat hyperbolically calls them)? Well after getting advice and being generally averse to exterminating living creatures, I let them be and they vanished as the weather warmed. Turns out they are a genetic mutation from the US and in their global spread have returned to their native patch in Siberia and Japan and are even ousting their ancestors. What to do... so complicated?
All in all a terrific read and a mine of information on invaders large and small.