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The loveliest bug

PUBLISHED: 17:49 02 September 2009 | UPDATED: 17:30 16 August 2010

Reaction to my column a couple of weeks ago indicates ladybirds are popular little creatures with adults and children. I revealed then that this is a ladybird invasion year with thousands if not millions covering cars and piling up on roadside verges esp

Reaction to my column a couple of weeks ago indicates ladybirds are popular little creatures with adults and children.

I revealed then that this is a ladybird invasion year with thousands if not millions covering cars and piling up on roadside verges especially in Norfolk and Somerset.

Due to the interest, I'm delving into the shrubbery again and looking closer at this spotty insect so cherished by gardeners for its habit of scoffing harmful aphids by the bucketload.

Ladybirds are often the first contact between children and wildlife. Remember the gruesome rhyme children learn to recite when a ladybird lands on them and they blow it gently away? "Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home, your house is on fire and your children are gone."

This is just one example of at least 200 rhymes and poems about ladybirds. And more than 300 names have been recorded for them in 50 languages since the familiar name was first applied in 1592 as a tribute to the Virgin Mary who was often depicted wearing a red cloak representing the blood of Christ and was associated with the mystic number seven, representing Seven Joys and Seven Sorrows of Mary. Hence the little red seven spot ladybird, most common of our 42 British species, became "Our Lady's Bird" - meaning it had wings and could fly.

Their collective name is "a loveliness of ladybirds" and they have many regional folk names. These include "clock lady" or "clock o' clay" from the children's habit of reciting a rhyme to a ladybird as it sits on their finger before supposedly indicating the time by the direction it flies away.

In East Anglia ladybirds are known as "Bishy Barnabee", thought to be a reference to Bishop Barnabas or St Barnabas. Schoolgirls chant: "Bishie, Bishie Barnabee, Tell me when my weddding will be, If it be tomorrow day, take your wings and fly away, Fly to East, Fly to West, Fly to him that I love best."

If you know any ladybird folk names or rhymes I'd be delighted to hear from you.

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