Thursday, 29 October 2009

Halloween vs the Ugly bug ball

"Come on let's crawl (gotta crawl gotta crawl)
To the ugly bug ball (to the ball to the ball)
And a happy time we'll have there, one and all - at the ugly bug ball”

Today the walls of my house are covered in ladybirds. Initially, I was pleased about this because a good population of ladybirds in the garden is free pest control for next year’s growing season (because they eat prodigious quantities of aphids etc) but then I looked closer. They all appear to be Harlequins - the highly invasive Asian species that is rapidly spreading North on the UK mainland and “out-competing” our 46 native species. We could try to kill them but, like Jason in Friday the 13th, and Michael Myers in Halloween, they will probably keep coming back undaunted.

No doubt Senators Ozouf, Le Sueur and Maclean will be pleased at this development because, to their viewpoint, increased competition is always good but their ideas, and those of their advisers, really are about as far away from “sustainable” as it is possible to imagine.

The Harlequin ladybird is putting over 1,000 species in the UK in peril, scientists have warned. In the following snippet from Radio 4, Dr Helen Roy, of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, discusses the danger of the "dramatic and unprecedented spread of the top predator".

EDIT: Here was an extract from a radio programme but it played automatically, which was a nuisance for anyone looking at other posts so I have removed it today (15th November 2009). If you want to hear it, then follow this link to a article about Harlequins

As the image shows, they come in multiple colour forms (Harlequins, not politicians) which can be confusing but, if you know approximately how big common ladybirds are, these are quite a lot bigger and more “domed”.

The following three paragraphs are adapted from Wikipedia.

Although native species of ladybirds are pretty benign, in North America the multicolored Asian lady beetle (=Harlequin =Harmonia axyridis), was introduced in the twentieth century to control aphids on agricultural crops. It has now become a serious household pest in some regions owing to its habit of overwintering in structures (AKA houses). It is now acquiring a pest reputation in Europe.

The first H. axyridis to be found in Jersey was located in St Catherine’s Woods in February 2007 by Tim Ransome. It is presumed that it was blown over from the French coast.

The species was first spotted in Essex in 2004 and has since become the fastest spreading alien species on record. The species probably arrived in the UK via several routes: most likely, some flew across the English Channel from France; others have been imported from Europe on flowers and vegetables, and from Canada in packing cases. Large numbers discovered at Battersea, Clapham and Chelsea implicate the Channel Tunnel rail link (Eurostar) as a route of entry.

Click the following link to a recent story in the Telegraph headlined

Harlequin ladybirds spreading through British homes

The scare aspect of this Telegraph story (about noxious smells and biting) also applies to native ladybirds, but these invaders have higher concentrations of the “reflex bleeding” chemicals and tend to overwinter in large numbers inside houses – don’t disturb them!

This story is yet another example of how simplistic application of predatory species for pest control can often go wrong. Compare the similar stories of cane toads and prickly pear cactus in Australia and many other less well known examples of what “seemed like a good idea at the time”.

Forced competition, both ecologically and economically can have very serious and unforeseen (to many) consequences. Remember that, next time you hear Philip Ozouf or Chuck Webb waxing lyrical about the benefits to prices and consumer choice of gung-ho competition.

I have said that the end result of deliberate or forced competition, taken to the limit, is an unstable “rat and cockroach” economy. That’s a reference to what happens to native species on islands when invasive rats, goats etc are introduced. Some of the ecosystems and species that Durell protects are endangered precisely because of this problem. It’s not rocket science. In a similar way, the manufacturing industries of the world are suffering an overwhelming threat because of the invasive nature of cheaply produced Chinese goods that are “out-competing” more established manufacturing infrastructures in much of the world. Outsourcing of “back office work” to low wage areas also has the same effect. It’s no good if things get incredibly cheap if no-one has a wage paying job to buy “stuff” is it?

Successful ecosystems, bio-diversity and stable economic diversity all use the same fundamental mechanisms rooted in the basic physics and logic of the Universe. Fatally flawed ideologically driven creeds like neoclassical economics, yuppy’ism and Gecko’s “greed is good, greed works” will be the death of us, or at least the extreme uncomfortableness of us…

Sustainability is not just a meeting-speak buzz word – it is survival tactics for everybody’s future.


Well, that was all a bit depressing, so cheer up! Here’s a clip, from a simpler time, of one of the cutest songs ever! "The Ugly Bug Ball" was sung by the legendary Burl Ives, in Walt Disney's film "Summer Magic" (1963).



Anonymous said...

So where does swine flu fit in and is it eco friendly or not to give as many people as possible a jab?

After all, we must presume that some natural act somewhere produced this latest variation and in the grand design x millions are intended to die - so on what basis shall we interfere. And never mind all the eggs and rats with a headache or worse and the billions of glass syringes, packaging, distribution networks, millions of profit and worried parents.

Is all the cost within a sustainable project and is there a friendly green alternative?

Nick Palmer said...

Vaccination works, in effect, by giving one's immune system a weakened or dead version of the bacteria or virus to work on so that one can end up with antibodies to the infectious agent without having had to got though having the disease itself, thus obtaining some immunity to the disease. Nowadays, some vaccines can be created from "bits" of the viral surface proteins so are safer than they used to be.

You say that "in the grand design x millions are intended to die" - that is the result that probably would have happened if we had taken no action to prevent or slow the spread of the infection. In epidemiology the difference between a runaway infection rate, a stable rate and a reducing one cane come down to relatively small changes in the way health authorities act.

Global pandemics like swine flu happen because of global travel and communication.

There is an argument that giving people artificially boosted protection against infection somehow weakens humanity but the whole history of civilisation since we discovered tools and fire etc has been the same story - without all the artificial aids, that our intelligence has created, we would not be a successful species.

Perhaps a significant use of our intelligence would be to realise that some of our amazing "artificial aids" can have far reaching and unplanned consequences beyond their first order purposes and that, sometimes, just because we can do something doesn't mean that we should do it - if we take the whole picture into account