Once introduced for biological pest control, Asian lady beetle Harmonia axyridis populations have been increasing uncontrollably in the US and Europe since the turn of the millennium.
During spring and fall, mass occurrences of the Asian lady beetle can often be observed.
Andreas Vilcinskas, Justus Liebig University, Giessen
The species has been proliferating rapidly in Germany; conservationists fear that the Asian lady beetle will out-compete native beetle species. Scientists from the University of Giessen and the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany, have now found the reason why this animal is so successful.
Apart from a strongly antibiotic substance − a compound called harmonine − and antimicrobial peptides, its body fluid, the hemolymph, contains microsporidia. These tiny fungus-like protozoa parasitize body cells and can cause immense harm to their host. The Asian lady beetle is obviously resistant to these parasites in its own body. However, transferred to native species, microsporidia can be lethal. SCIENCE, May 17, 2013, DOI: 10.1126/science.1234032)
In most cases, such a neozoon species doesn’t survive or else its population density remains very low, because original and adapted life forms usually prevail in their ecological niche and win interspecific competitions. However, as soon as Harmonia axyridis is released into nature, it invades all habitats, especially those occupied by beetle species that feed on aphids. Within a very short period of time, native beetles are out-competed and the intruders have taken over. During the fall, major congregations of Asian lady beetles can be observed as swarms of insects search for hibernation places in houses or other sheltered areas.They are not only a nuisance, they can also cause serious allergic reactions in humans. When prey becomes scarce, Asian lady beetles may feed on grapes as a substitute diet and hence, they are often found on grape-vines in vineyards in the fall. Once in the mash, the defensive chemical substances in their hemolymph negatively affect the taste of wine.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1234032Schmidtberg, H., Röhrich, C., Vogel, H., Vilcinskas, A. (2013). A switch from constitutive chemical defense to inducible innate immune responses in the invasive ladybird Harmonia axyridis. Biology Letters 9: 20130006.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2013.0006Vilcinskas, A., Mukherjee, K., Vogel, H. (2013). Expansion of the antimicrobial peptide repertoire in the invasive ladybird Harmonia axyridis. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B - Biological Sciences. 280: 20122113.
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