These photographs following the ladybird's lifecycle were all taken in London over the last 10 years, some of which were bumper years for the invasive and voracious Harlequin ladybird.
Above left: a pair of Harlequins mating on a Burdock leaf. Note the underside of the leaf - it's covered with their main meal, aphids.
Above right: another Harlequin laying eggs on a tree trunk. There are over 100 different colour / pattern variations in Harlequins.
Above: these batches of eggs are all being preyed on by their own kind - ladybird larvae, which are eating the eggs - an easy free meal, perhaps when aphids aren't easily to hand. It's not only the aggressive Harlequin ladybird that does this; the one in the third photo is probably a 7-spot ladybird.
Above and right: these eggs have evaded predation and are now hatching! In the picture above, the first larva from this batch of eggs has just climbed out of its shell. In the image on the right, the larvae (probably Harlequins) have just hatched and are eating their egg shells as their first meal.
Above: Harlequin ladybird larvae; as they mature, they remain spiky but develop these distinctive orange markings on their abdomen which form the outline of a rectangle, as in the example on the right. All larvae moult four times as they develop over 3-6 weeks.
Above left: the mature larva of a 7-spot ladybird.
Above right: this is a chilling scene of cannabalism! There are two larvae here: the one at the front is rearing into the air, struggling to escape, as another larva eats it alive from behind. Harlequins don't only eat aphids, but also the eggs and larvae of other insects, including their own kind.
Above left: a Harlequin ladybird larva beginning to pupate. They attach themselves by their hindquarters to a leaf or hard surface, arch their body, and the skin splits down the back, revealing the pupa, rather like another moult.
Above right: a particularly attractive orange pupa; their colours vary enormously in the proportions of black and orange, as do the colour forms of the adults. The pupal stage lasts only 7-10 days.
Above: an adult ladybird pulls itself out of the top of its pupal case.
Above right: in my experience, the first thing they usually do when they emerge from their case, is to climb upon it and sit there for a while... as if clinging to the familiar before setting out on their new life.
Above: pupae 'stretching', as they lift themselves up; they sometimes do this to deter predators, but it's usually a sign that the adult ladybird is preparing to emerge. The one on the right was photographed for its colour - an unusually clear bright orange.
Above: these newly emerged adults are pumping blood into their wings to expand and harden them before they're ready to fly. Here you can see their hindwings extended as part of that. Wherever possible, they'll choose a vertical surface to perch on for this purpose. Initially, the ladybirds are a light yellow or orange colour; the darker markings will emerge over the next hours or days.
Here's that process again, all seen in a single specimen, which I took home to observe:
The pupa, as found...
The pupa appears to elongate and broaden, but it's actually the head of the ladybird, pulling itself out through the top and splitting the case.
The stretching/extending movements that indicate it's preparing to break out of its case; you can see here the underside of the pupa, with the head and legs curled up at the top.
All is clear - the adult ladybird is now recognisable.
As is 'custom', the ladybird turns back to its case, as if saying goodbye...
When put under a glass, it gravitates to the vertical surface....
.... presumably in order to best extend and prepare its new wings.
I don't know what happened to 'Harley' next; I released it outside shortly after...
All photographs Copyright Germander Speedwell, but feel free to get in touch if you'd like to use any.