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.
I am still trying to work out how to separate female Dusky and Heath Ladybirds but this is possibly the one pair that is currently not identifiable in the field.
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.
Black legs with brown feet
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.
Legs yellowish or sometimes black with yellowish tips
Oak Ladybird 2.0-2.3mm
A smallish species with quite a distinctive shape; a short round oval with a high dome over the "shoulder" area, giving it a front heavy feel.
The rear of the abdomen usually with a reddish tip, sometimes visible from above, but can be checked on the underside.
This species is strongly associated with oaks and is best searched for with a beating tray.
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.
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
Photo by Mark Hows
Groove on metasternum
Heath Ladybird 1.8-2.2mm
Black with reddish legs
Heath and Dusky Ladybird are a species pair, very difficult to separate in the all dark form.
Schmidt's is also similar but can be identified by the diagnostic groove on the metasternum.
Habitat and range can be a useful clue.
Heath occurs in semi natural grassland and heathland habitats across England, Wales and rarely Scotland, whilst Dusky seems to be centred on the Thames Estuary coast, including brownfield sites.
The pattern of hairs on the wing cases could be a useful feature to separate from Dusky Ladybird. The hairs run straight with just a small angled curve at the tips.
Hairs on wing cases straight with slight angled curve at tips
Found in grassland, The Brecks
No groove on metasternum
Dusky Ladybird 1.8-2.3mm
Black with reddish legs, antennae and front of face
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).
The pattern of hairs on the wing cases could be a useful feature to separate from Heath Ladybird. Dusky has a strongly waved pattern with the hairs at the rear tips strongly spreading out. This is similar to the pattern shown by Red-flanked Ladybird.
Hairs on wing case tips strongly spreading outwards
Photo by Mark Hows
Shape similar to Red-flanked Ladybird
Lacks groove on metasternum
Dusky Ladybird is currently under recorded, not surprising as it has not featured in any field guides and female forms are not identifiable in the field.
Most of the current records are from professional ecologists.
This species pair, of all dark Heath and Dusky, is very frustrating, as this pair are the only inconspicuous ladybirds not currently provable from a set of good quality photos taken in the field.
I have records of assumed Heath Ladybirds from the Surrey heathlands and The Brecks.
I have records of assumed Dusky Ladybirds found in evergreen garden shrubs in Essex and swept from grassland at Fishers Green, Lee Valley, Essex.
I have not yet found a male of either of these species. The males are either more elusive, less numerous or possibly have an all dark form resembling females.
It is worth noting that if using a key that does not include Dusky Ladybird, then this species is likely to key out as Heath Ladybird.
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 legs are black.
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.
Patchy silvery hairs
Distinctive red abdomen
It can be beaten from garden evergreen shrubs and also occurs in Ivy and Holly in woodland.