Reilly Clattock, of Balclutha Primary School, asks :-

Why do lady birds have the colours and spots they do?

John Marris, the curator of the Entomology Research Museum at Lincoln University, responded.

Ladybirds are often brightly coloured and patterned, which makes them look very attractive and easy to spot. It seems strange for an insect to be like this. You would think that being so bright and colourful would make them easy for predators, such as birds, to find them and eat them. But some ladybirds have a special trick. They have poisons in their bodies. If a bird tries to eat them it will get a very bad taste in its mouth or may even be sick from the poison. The bright colouring works like an advertisement to predators, saying: "STAY AWAY. I TASTE BAD".

This is called warning colouration. A lot of other brightly coloured insects do the same thing. Monarch butterflies advertise that they are poisonous with their colourful wings. Wasps warn that they are dangerous and can sting with their yellow and black colouring: "KEEP AWAY. I STING".

Experiments have shown that birds quickly learn to avoid insects with warning colouration after a bad experience.

Some insects are even sneakier. They use warning colouration to protect themselves from predators, but they are only pretending to be poisonous or stinging insects. In fact they are quite harmless. Predators are scared away thinking that these insects are dangerous.

There are about 50 different sorts of ladybirds found in New Zealand. Most of these aren’t very colourful at all and are dull brown or black. Many of the bright red and black ladybirds that you see were brought to New Zealand to help control pest insects, which they like to eat.