All Black Specimens

This group consists of Black and Dot Ladybirds, plus the females of four Scymnus species: 

Oak, Heath, Schmidt's and Dusky Ladybirds. Forestier's Ladybird is also in this group, although it is quite different to the others.

I am trying to find ways to identify as many inconspicuous ladybirds as possible using visible external features, avoiding the need to dissect a dead specimen or the use of specialist microscopes.

This group is probably the hardest in which to identify every individual, although by combining habitat and a series of good quality photographs, many should be possible.

When I first started birding, Blyth's Reed Warbler was a bird only identified in the hand, when caught by bird ringers. Now it is regularly found and identified by birders in the field.

The more people study a species, the more identification criteria become apparent.

There are several small black oval species of beetles in a variety of families that can be mistaken for inconsipuous ladybirds. The Dot Ladybird and Scymnus species have very short clubbed antennae, whilst many of the look alike species have noticably longer antennae, so this is the first feature to check to avoid confusion.

Black Ladybird        2.0-2.8mm

This is a difficult species to find, but when seen it is distinctive, the only one in this group that has solidly black legs, only the feet are pale brown. The other species all have brown or yellow legs.

Larger than similar species, all black with a metallic sheen.

It is associated with pines.

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Photo by Mark Hows
Black legs with brown feet
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Photo by Mark Hows
Black  legs and brown feet

Dot Ladybird       1.3-1.5mm

This quite common species is fairly easy to locate. It is recognised by its extremely small size. 

Its length is equal to the width of most other inconspicuous ladybirds.

The legs are a pale yellowy-brown, occasionally mostly black but with at least the tips are yellowish.

Extremely small
Legs yellowish or sometimes black with yellowish tips

Oak Ladybird        2.0-2.3mm

The red abdomen tip is the distinctive feature to look for. This species is strongly associated with oaks.

Showing red abdomen tip
Red abdomen tip not visible

If the red abdomen tip is not visible from above then check the underside. 

Reddish brown legs and usually shows red on face and abdomen tip, although this can be difficult to see on darkest individuals.
Often found alongside Dot Ladybirds in oak trees.

Heath Ladybird    1.8-2.2mm

Black with reddish legs.

Very similar to Schmidt's and Dusky Ladybirds. Lacks a groove along the centre of the metasternum, similar to Dusky but unlike Schmidt's.

Very difficult to separate from Dusky Ladybird.

Habitat is a good clue.

Heath is a species of semi-natural grassland and heathland, overlapping in some habitats with Angle-spot Ladybird.

Dusky Ladybird occurs in man-made habitats in the London area, often overlapping with Red-flanked Ladybird.

Found in grassland, The Brecks
No groove on metasternum

Schmidt's Ladybird      2.4-2.6mm

Black with reddish legs

The diagnostic feature is a groove along the centre line of the metasternum (on the underside

between the middle and rear pair of legs).

Another feature is the presence of strong punctures on the wingcases forming lines resembling striae.

This is a grassland species associated with moss and is very elusive.

Photo by Mark Hows
Lines of punctures on wing cases
Groove on metasternum
Photo by Mark Hows

Dusky Ladybird      1.8-2.3mm

Black with reddish legs

Separated from Schmidt's by lack of groove along centre of metasternum.

Very difficult to distinguish from Heath Ladybird. Habitat is a good clue.

Dusky occurs in urban habitats in the London area, whilst Heath occurs in semi-natural grassland and heathland habitats.

Dusky has the look and feel of an all dark Red-flanked Ladybird (fortunately Red-flanked has not got an all dark form).

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Photo by Mark Hows
Shape similar to Red-flanked Ladybird
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Lacks groove on metasternum

Forestier's Ladybird      3.2mm

This species is much larger than the others in this group and has distinctive bald patches amongst the silvery hairs.

The underside has a distinctive patch of red on the rear third, contrasting with the black front.

The antennae are as long as the head width, much longer than the other species in this group.

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Patchy silvery hairs
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Distinctive red abdomen

It can be beaten from garden evergreen shrubs and also occurs in Ivy and Holly in woodland.