Epaulet Ladybird  Rhyzobius chrysomeloides

Other names: Arboreal Ladybird   Round-keeled Rhyzobius

This is the commonest ladybird in my recording area, occurring in pine trees, Ivy and ornamental evergreen shrubs.

It is also the only species that I can find, almost at will, on any day of the year.

It occurs in every local garden with ornamental shrubs that I have searched.

It can easily be found wintering in Ivy, using a beating tray. A useful project during the quiet months of November-February.

The colour contrast between the light and dark markings show 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.
Identification          Length  2.5-3.5mm

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

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

The ground colour varies from light oak to deep chestnut.

An obvious feature is a pale curved stripe across the top of the wing cases.

This is sometimes reduced to an orange patch on the shoulder areas, resembling epaulets.

In the most distinctive individuals the curved stripe continues as two stripes running either side of the wing case centre line, forming a pair of tramlines.

The outer wing cases typically have a shield shaped area of dark lines surrounding the pale shoulder curve and tramlines.

This usually includes two vertical lines on each wing case, although these can be fused or broken.

The outer edge has a distinctive curved S-shape, with a scalloped indentation at the top and a bulge towards the rear. 

The centre rear often has an anchor shaped mark, with a tooth-like projection on each side contrasting with a pale area on the wing case tips.

The pronotum (between the head and wing cases) have straight and nearly parallel sided edges to the rear. 

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Wing case pattern

The most distinctive individuals have a pale curved stripe running from shoulder to shoulder with a pair of pale tramlines running down either side of the wing case centre. 

This common pattern is very obvious and eye catching and is often the form that attracts an observer when first discovering this species. These are unlike any Meadow Ladybirds and are very easy to identify.

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Very distinctive pale central lines diverging slightly
                                                  Upshire, North Essex
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Central lines running parallel to each other
                                    Upshire, North Essex
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Waltham Abbey, North Essex
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Turnford, Lee Valley, Hertfordshire
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Waltham Abbey, North Essex

On some the pale tramlines are broken or irregular.

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Tramlines separated from shoulder stripe by dark markings
                                                Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire
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   Indistinct broken pattern  Broxbourne, Hertfordshire

Some have a brighter orange patch, resembling an epaulet, on the outer side of the curved shoulder stripe.

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Waltham Abbey, North Essex
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Fishers Green, North Essex

A small number have the orange patches merging and extending over the top part of the wing cases.

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Upshire, North Essex

Sometimes the two tramlines are fused into an extra wide central pale area continuing downwards from the top orange band.

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Upshire, North Essex

Some Epaulet Ladybirds are mostly dark but unlike the darkest Meadow Ladybirds they are not uniformly dark. 

There is usually a ghostly hint of the pale shoulder curve and the pair of tramlines running down either side of the wing case centre line.

The typical dark markings are also usually present, although often obscured.

The dark tooth-like projections often contrast with the pale, often grey, wing case tips.

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Dark with pale shoulder patches
     Waltham Abbey, North Essex
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Dark with hint of epaulet and central lines pattern
                  Fishers Green, Lee Valley, North Essex

Overlying the light markings is a distinctive, though variable, dark area that is broadly shield shaped.

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The typical pattern has two vertical lines on each wing case.

There is often an anchor shaped mark at the centre rear with a dark line running up the centre.

The outer edge has a scalloped shape near the top, with a bulge further down ending in a tooth shaped point contrasting with the pale rear .

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Upshire, North Essex
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Typical shield shaped dark markings with double outer line
                                                                 Exeter, South Devon
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Anchor shape extended and resembling Norman helmet with nose guard        Exeter, South Devon

On some the black markings are fused together creating a solidly dark shield shaped area on the rear wing cases.

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Upshire, North Essex
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Upshire, North Essex

The trickiest Epaulet Ladybirds to identify have the dark markings reduced.

However there are always a few clues. The broken dark markings still tend to cover the usual template, with the distinctive outer S-shape (with upper scallop and lower bulge) and usually at least a hint of the second inner line.

Meadow Ladybird only has a single vertical line on each wing case, which is straighter and usually stops at the half way point.

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Upshire, North Essex
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Upshire, North Essex
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Upshire, North Essex
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Fishers Green, Lee Valley, North Essex
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Very reduced markings but second inner line still present
                                                Waltham Abbey, North Essex

A small number lack the second inner line and these can be very similar to some Meadow Ladybirds and not all will be identifiable on current knowledge, although there are still a few useful features that often help.

The outside shape of the black line is often distinctive with the S-shape formed by the scalloped upper part and bulge on the lower part, with the whole line stretching towards the top corner.

The central panel is often a bright orange colour, with a series of thin darker horizontal lines.

On darker brown individuals there is often a hint of the brighter orange shoulder patch or epaulet.

The typical straight sided pronotum edge is also often present.

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Upshire, North Essex
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Upshire, North Essex
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Upshire, North Essex
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Upshire, North Essex
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Waltham Abbey, North Essex

Recently emerged individuals are a pale fawn or orange colour with faint markings that when looked at carefully still follow the typical pattern.

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Probably recently emerged with pale markings                               Waltham Abbey, North Essex
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Recently emerged with very pale hint of typical pattern
                                                         Upshire, North Essex

When photographing a suspected Epaulet Ladybird, it is best to get a photograph from above, as this shows the pattern most clearly.

A side on photograph will not show a subtle pattern well, although it will still be useful, as 

other features may be apparent.

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Indistinct dark and light markings
 Braunton Burrows, North Devon
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The same individual as above, showing hint of the epaulet stripes and tramlines, as well as pale grey wing case tips

Pronotum Shape

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

The majority show a strong curve at the corner forming a right angle with a straight edged 

rear section.

The rear section is often nearly parallel sided.

Some are more curved and similar to Meadow Ladybird but most show at least a short straight sided rear section.

Meadow Ladybird usually has a gently curved pronotum, lacking the right angled corner and still curving as it reaches the wing cases.

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Very straight sided pronotum
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Typical pronotum shape

Antennae Shape

The clubbed antennae are thin, longer than the head width and often held towards the side.

They usually show a distinctive kink at the half way point, resembling a wire coat hanger.

This is the same as Meadow Ladybirds and is typical of ladybirds, so is a good way to rule out look alike beetle species from other family groups.

When disturbed Epaulet Ladybird often sit still with their legs and antennae tucked under the body, so need to be left until they start walking about before this feature can be checked.

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Abbey Gardens, Waltham Abbey, North Essex

Mixed Photographs

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Fishers Green, Lee Valley, North Essex
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Upshire, North Essex
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Waltham Abbey, North Essex
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With 7-spot Ladybird
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With 22-spot and 7-spot Ladybirds
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With Cream-spot Ladybird
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With Cream-streaked Ladybird
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With 10-spot Ladybirds
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With 22-spot Ladybird
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With Ivy Ladybird
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With 22-spot and Forestier's Ladybirds
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Beaten from Ivy alongside Opilo mollis and Pogonocherus hispidus                   Fishers Green, Lee Valley, North Essex
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With two Lesser Thorn-tipped Longhorns
On lid of garden wheelie bin   Upshire, North Essex

Variation and Forms

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Habitat

Epaulet Ladybird can be found in a wide range of habitats.

It is best searched for using a beating tray (or umbrella).

I have found it by eye on and in garden wheelie bins, containing shrub prunings.

Unlike the slightly scarcer Red-flanked, Ivy and Meadow Ladybirds, I have never found this species by eye on vegetation. It is cryptically coloured and may keep out of sight underneath the vegetation.

Epaulet Ladybird can be found through out the year and is often easy to locate during the winter months, except during frosty, windy or rainy weather.

There is sometimes a drop in numbers in the early spring. April can be the trickiest month to find them, presumably the wintering adults have died off and the next generation has yet to emerge.

Numbers then increase during the summer, with this species becoming abundant in the autumn. July to September can be a very good months to search for Epaulet Ladybirds as they spread into a myriad of available habitats.

Epaulet Ladybirds can be common in pine trees, in small copses or individual trees.

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Plantation pine tree  Upshire, North Essex
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Garden pine tree  Upshire, North Essex
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Small pine tree     Braunton Burrows, North Devon
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Pine tree     May Day Farm, The Brecks, West Suffolk
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Pine tree     Turnford, Lee Valley, Hertfordshire
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Pine copse         Harlow, North Essex
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Amongst pine needles           Upshire, North Essex

They can also be common on Ivy in woodland situations.

In the Lee Valley and around the northern edge of Epping Forest they can easily be found in winter by searching Ivy growing on tree trunks.

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Sheltered green lane with plenty of Ivy; ideal habitat
                   Puck Lane, Waltham Abbey, North Essex
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Ivy.   Fishers Green, Lee Valley, North Essex
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Ivy       Darland Banks, Gillingham, East Kent
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Ivy    Turnford, Lee Valley, Hertfordshire
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 Ivy covered tree trunk                               Leigh Delamere services, North Wiltshire
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Ivy       Roding Valley Meadows, South Essex
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Ivy      Roding Valley Meadows, South Essex
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Ivy covered building   Hooks Marsh, Lee Valley, North Essex
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Ivy covered wall   Harlow, North Essex

In December 2020 I found Epaulet Ladybirds in the Holly understorey in Epping Forest for the first time and then at Hainault Forest CP in 2021.

I have previously found Orange and Forestier's Ladybirds in this habitat.

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Holly        Fairmead, Epping Forest, South Essex
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Holly        Fairmead, Epping Forest, South Essex
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Holly         Hainault Forest CP, South Essex

Yew is another evergreen shrub that can be successfully searched for Epaulet Ladybirds.

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Yew            Rushy Mead, Lee Valley, North Essex
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Yew        Hainault Forest CP. South Essex
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Yew     Ospringe, East Kent

Epaulet Ladybirds can be abundant in gardens, both rural and urban.

They can be found on Ivy covered fences and on a variety of evergreen shrubs, especially Euonymus, Viburnum tinus, Firethorn, Privet and Cotoneaster.

I have also occasionally found them on Oleaster Elaeagnus and Berberis.

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Euonymus.      Upshire, North Essex
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Euonymus.    Waltham Abbey, North Essex
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Euonymus hedge.   Abbey Gardens, Lee Valley, North Essex
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Firethorn.  Upshire, North Essex

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Oleaster Elaeagnus      Waltham Abbey, North Essex
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Privet hedge     Exeter, South Devon

Epaulet Ladybirds can easily be found in garden wheelie bins that have been filled with the prunings from these shrubs.

They can also be found in deciduous shrubs, including Weigela, Dogwood and Guelder-rose.
I have also beaten them from low hanging oak tree branches.
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Weigela.   Upshire, North Essex
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Guelder-rose.  Fishers Green, Lee Valley, North Essex
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Oak tree     Potkiln Wood, Epping Forest, North Essex

During July 2020 Mark Hows and I were beating either side of a foot path at Fishers Green, Essex and we were finding Epaulet Ladybirds in almost all pieces of vegetation we sampled, including oak trees, thistles, burdock, White Bryony and Black Horehound.

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Oak tree      Fishers Green, Lee Valley, North Essex
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White Bryony   Fishers Green, Lee Valley, North Essex
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Burdock       Fishers Green, Lee Valley, North Essex

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