Meadow Ladybird      Rhyzobius litura

Other Names:  Small Brown Ladybird,  Pointed-keeled Rhyzobius

A common species of grassland habitats.

Identification       Length  2.5-3.0mm

A mostly pale brown, long-bodied oval species with long antennae.

Meadow Ladybird has a reputation for being easily confused with Epaulet Ladybird but I consider the majority to be identifiable in the field.

Some are completely plain, usually a pale straw colour, but can be buff, brown or occasionally nearly black.

Many have a distinctive dark U-shape on the rear of the wing cases, reaching about half way up the sides. Some have a neat pale cream outer edge to the wing cases, a very distinctive feature. There is usually a variable dark patch at the top of the wing cases behind the pronotum. This can be rectangular, triangular or semi-circular and is often messy.

Darker specimens can show a rather confused pattern of dark and light barring across the central area of the wing cases.

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Some are a deep chestnut colour with a rather confused pattern and these can be confused with Epaulet Ladybird, although they can be separated with care.

The sides of the pronotum (between the head and wing cases) are gently curved, often still widening as they reach the wing cases.

The colour contrast between the light and dark markings shows up best on photographs of live specimens taken outside in natural light, using a digital camera with a macro-lens.
Studio photographs of pinned specimens tend to bleach out much of the subtle colour details.

Wing Case Pattern

Many are plain and unmarked, ranging from pale buff to oak coloured, occasionally reddish.

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Very pale with black eyes only feature
Fishers Green, Lee Valley, North Essex
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May Day Farm, The Brecks, West Suffolk
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Pigleys Wood, North Walsham. East Norfolk
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Clayton Hill, Lee Valley, North Essex
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                                   Uniform oak colour
Bowers Water, Lee Valley, Hertfordshire

The classic colour pattern has a dark U-shape mark at the rear of the wing cases, dark brown or black. These markings can be curved or angular.

There is a single dark line running along the outer edge of each wing case. These are straight and tend to stop at about the halfway point. (There are usually two lines on each wing case on Epaulet Ladybird, forming a shield shape with the outer line showing an S-shape and nearly reaching the top corner).

Some also have a black or dark brown patch at the top of the wing cases behind the pronotum.

This can be square, triangular or semi-circular.

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Filsham Reedbed, East Sussex
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Upshire, North Essex
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Upshire, North Essex
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Fishers Green, North Essex

Many have a neat pale edge around the complete outside of the wing cases. This is a very useful feature and often a very good supporting feature for Meadow Ladybird. On Epaulet Ladybird any pale outer edge shows a strong series of curves and indentations.

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Waltham Abbey, North Essex
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Upshire, North Essex
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With paler grey sides and rear edge to the wing cases outside the black pattern.            Upshire, North Essex
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Fishers Green, North Essex
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Fishers Green, Lee Valley, North Essex
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Sandwich Bay, East Kent

A few are much darker, a deep chestnut colour and occasionally almost black. The darkest Meadow Ladybirds are often plain, lacking the dark and light patches, including light shoulder stripe and pale tramlines as seen on Epaulet Ladybird.

There is often a hint of the dark rear U-shape marking.

Some show darker wing cases contrasting with a paler head and pronotum.

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Cornmill Meadows, Lee Valley, North Essex
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Fishers Green, Lee Valley, North Essex
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Fishers Green, Lee Valley, North Essex
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Thetford Warren, The Brecks, West Suffolk

A few darker specimens have an obvious pale outer edge to the wing cases.

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Pett Levels, East Sussex
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Pett Levels, East Sussex

Some specimens are a dark chestnut brown with a rather confused pattern of lighter and dark shading with out any distinctive features. These can be quite similar to a small number of Epaulet Ladybirds and are the trickiest individuals to identify. Some may show a hint of the paler outer edge or the typical dark pattern of Meadow Ladybird, but others have a confusing mix of dark and light horizontal bars and vertical lines. 

Individuals lacking conclusive Meadow Ladybird features are best identified by a combination of lack of Epaulet Ladybird features, the pronotum shape and grassland habitat.

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Gunpowder Park, Sewardstone, South Essex
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Upshire, North Essex
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Upshire, North Essex

Pronotum shape

The pronotum shape can help in the identification process but is not always diagnostic.

The majority have gently curved sides that are still curving as they reach the wing cases.

A few have the strong right angled corners typical of Epaulet Ladybird but do not often show the almost parallel straight edges shown by Epaulet Ladybird.

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Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire
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Gently curved outer edge
Upshire, North Essex
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Sharp angled corner to pronotum
                     Upshire, North Essex

Antennae Shape

The shape and length of the antennae are distinctive and a very useful way to rule out look-alike beetle species (Epaulet Ladybird has similar antennae).

The clubbed antennae are slightly longer than the head width. There is usually a distinct bend at the half way point. This combined with the antennae thinness and the fact that they are often held to the side gives them a resemblance to a wire coat hanger.

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Antennae held forward but still with distinct kink at halfway point.
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Antennae held in typical coat hanger pose
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Right hand antenna held straight but kink still visible in left hand one
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Both antennae held straight, but slight curve still visible

The above photograph is the only one of several hundred that I have of live Meadow Ladybirds that shows almost straight antennae.

When searching for photos on the internet, there many images of dead pinned Meadow Ladybirds from collections that have straight antennae held at 90 degrees from each other. Whilst this is not impossible on live specimens it is atypical. This is not representative of how this species usually looks whilst alive. 

Mixed Photographs

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With 16-spot Ladybird
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With numerous 16-spot Ladybirds and one Angle-spot Ladybird
         With 24-spot and 16-spot Ladybirds
May Day Farm, The Brecks, West Suffolk

Variation and Forms

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Habitat

This is a common species of grassland, often found with 16-spot and 24-spot Ladybirds whilst sweep netting.

It can be found by eye, but patience or luck is required.

Often in drier habitats such as hayfields and can be especially common in coastal areas.

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Grassland     Upshire, North Essex
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Herb rich grassland
Gunpowder Park, Lee Valley, South Essex
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Dry grassland
Fishers Green, Lee Valley, North Essex
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Grassy trackway
Grimes Graves, The Brecks, West Norfolk
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Grassy forest clearing
May Day Farm, The Brecks, West Suffolk
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Tall grass on edge of footpath
Santon Downham, The Brecks, West Norfolk
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Tall dry grassland
Ramparts Field, The Brecks, West Suffolk

Occurs in damper sites, such as edges of ponds and ditches and can also be found in Nettle patches

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Grass on edge of pond             Upshire, North Essex
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Grassy hollow with nettles      Upshire, North Essex
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Streamside grasses and herbage
Cornmill Meadows, Lee Valley, North Essex
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Slightly damp flush in area of dry grassland
Fishers Green, Lee Valley, North Essex
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Patch of Black Horehound
Fishers Green, Lee Valley, North Essex
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Burdock seedheads
Silvermeade, Lee Valley, Hertfordshire
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Nettle patch
Fishers Green, Lee Valley, North Essex
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Coastal grassland with nettles and thistles
    Otterspool, Liverpool, South Lancashire
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Coastal grassland with nettles and thistles
    Otterspool, Liverpool, South Lancashire
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Knotgrass and other low ruderal vegetation on farm track
                               Fishers Green, Lee Valley, North Essex

Some people search for and find Meadow Ladybirds during the winter by examining grass tussocks. I have not tried this but in 2022 I found my first wintering individuals by tapping the seed heads of Common Fleabane in a large unmown meadow.

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Wintering site in seed heads of Common Fleabane
                                    Waltham Abbey, North Essex

Meadow Ladybird occasionally occurs in gardens, although it is usually less frequent than Epaulet Ladybird, which is often abundant in many gardens.

I have found Meadow Ladybird in flower beds whilst clearing out old Daylilys Hemerocallis.

I have beaten two Meadow Ladybirds from Euonymus, although this compares to several hundred Epaulet Ladybirds.

I have seen very small numbers of 16-spot and 24-spot Ladybirds in evergreen garden shrubs, so grassland specialists obviously can turn up in this habitat.

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                    Euonymus shrub
Waltham Abbey, North Essex

Look-alike Species

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Unidentified beetle swept from grassland

I swept the above unidentified beetle from grassland along side several Meadow Ladybirds. It was a similar size and the same colour as a pale individual but it did not quite look right. When I looked closer it was obvious that the antennae were too long for any ladybird species and they were held out straight and to the front. 

This is typical of many other types of beetles, including the Leaf Beetles Chrysomelidae, several of which can be confused with various ladybird species. Checking the antennae is often the quickest way to rule out look-alike species.

Red Marsh Ladybird sometimes gets misidentified as Meadow Ladybird, as the two species often overlap in grassland, especially on the edges of ditches and ponds.

Teneral Red Marsh Ladybirds are a dull pale brown with a reddish tint, lacking the typical bright red colouring of a mature specimen.

The strong bulging curve to the outer edge of the pronotum on Red Marsh is the best feature to quickly separate the two species.

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A rather pale Red Marsh Ladybird 

When I first started finding inconspicuous ladybirds, I had a few reddish coloured Meadow Ladybirds mentioned in my notebooks, but I have not seen any recently and have no photos, so suspect these were probably Red Marsh Ladybirds.

Additional photograph gallery available in Confusing Species Groups chapter (see header at top of page).