Epaulet Ladybird  Rhyzobius chrysomeloides

Other names: 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.

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 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 majority are a dark chestnut ground colour, although some are a paler oak colour and a few are very dark.

A distinctive feature on many individuals is a pale curved mark on each shoulder area, an epaulet, which often combine to form a continuous pale curve.

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       A typical specimen: A deep chestnut colour with blackish markings and an orange curved epaulet across the shoulders                                                                   Waltham Abbey, Essex
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A paler individual but still showing a faint pale shoulder stripe                                                  Fishers Green, Lee Valley, Essex
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A light oak colour but pattern still distinctive                                             Waltham Abbey, Essex
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Very pale with faint epaulet stripe                              Thundridge, Herts

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

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Bright orange epaulets
Waltham Abbey, Essex
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                       Small dull epaulets
Fishers Green, Lee Valley, Essex

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

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Upshire, Essex
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Turnford, Lee Valley, Herts
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Upshire, Essex

The most distinctive individuals have the pale curved stripe extending down either side of the wing case central line, forming a pair of tramlines.  

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, Essex
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Central lines running parallel to each other
                                               Upshire, Essex
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Pale but with distinctive pattern
              Waltham Abbey, Essex
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Waltham Abbey, Essex
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Nazeing, Essex
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Turnford, Lee Valley, Herts
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Waltham Abbey, Essex

On some the pale tramlines are broken or irregular.

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

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

On many there is 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, Essex
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Dark with hint of epaulet and central lines pattern
                            Fishers Green, Lee Valley, Essex

The dark markings that overlay the lighter markings follow a general pattern, although they are variable.

There is often an anchor like mark at the centre of the rear wing cases. When viewed in reverse, this can resemble a Norman helmet with an extended nose guard.

There are usually two lines running up each wing case (only one vertical line on Meadow Ladybird).

These can be fused to form a large dark area, with a shield like shape. 

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Typical shield shaped dark markings with double outer line
                                                                            Exeter, Devon

A few Epaulet Ladybirds are paler and lack the complicated shading typical of this species and can look similar to some Meadow Ladybirds.

The pattern of black lines can be reduced but still follows the same basic template.

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A well marked individual with classic anchor mark and double row of outer lines.                                                Upshire, Essex
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Anchor shape extended and resembling Norman helmet with nose guard                   Exeter, Devon
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Less well marked with broken lines but typical pattern
                                                                  Upshire, Essex
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At first glance quite similar to Meadow Ladybird but on closer inspection the faint second inner line is visible with the whole pattern fitting the typical template of Epaulet Ladybird.                                          Waltham Abbey, Essex

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

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Upshire, Essex
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Upshire, 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, 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, Essex

Mixed Photographs

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Fishers Green, Lee Valley, Essex
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Upshire, Essex
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Waltham Abbey, Essex
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With 7-spot Ladybird
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With Cream-spot Ladybird
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With Cream-streaked Ladybird
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With 22-spot Ladybird
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Beaten from Ivy alongside Opilo mollis and Pogonocherus hispidus                             Fishers Green, Lee Valley, Essex
On lid of garden wheelie bin   Upshire, 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, Essex
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Garden pine tree  Upshire, Essex
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Small pine tree     Braunton Burrows, Devon
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Pine tree     May Day Farm, The Brecks, Suffolk
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Pine tree     Turnford, Lee Valley, Herts
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Pine copse         Harlow, Essex
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Amongst pine needles           Upshire, 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, Essex
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Ivy.   Fishers Green, Lee Valley, Essex
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Ivy.   Hall Marsh, Lee Valley, Essex
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Ivy    Turnford, Lee Valley, Herts
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Ivy.  Cornmill Tree Park, Lee Valley, Essex
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Ivy covered building   Hooks Marsh, Lee Valley, Essex
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Ivy covered wall   Harlow, Essex

In December 2020 I found Epaulet Ladybirds in the Holly understorey in Epping Forest for the first time.

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

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Holly        Fairmead, Epping Forest, Essex
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Holly        Fairmead, Epping Forest, Essex

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

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Yew            Rushy Mead, Lee Valley, Essex

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

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Oleaster Elaeagnus      Waltham Abbey, Essex
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Privet hedge     Exeter, 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, Essex
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Guelder-rose.  Fishers Green, Lee Valley, Essex
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Oak tree     Potkiln Wood, Epping Forest, 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, Essex
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White Bryony   Fishers Green, Lee Valley, Essex
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Burdock       Fishers Green, Lee Valley, Essex

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