Ladybirds can fly 74 miles in one go: Research shows insects can also travel as fast as racehorse and fly at height of 3,600ft

  • New research reveals tiny bugs don’t care about their size
  • They estimate ladybirds can fly incredibly fast, reaching speeds of 37mph
  • They can also stay in air for up to two hours, making long distance flights
  • Can travel up to 74 miles in a single flight, according to new data
  • Scientists at University of Hull carried out perspex box experiments

article-0-1A521046000005DC-147_306x423They may be smaller than the size of your fingertip.

But when it comes to ladybirds, size is no barrier to might, according to new scientific research.

Experts have discovered the insects can reach the same speed as a racehorse and fly at altitudes close to the height of Ben Nevis.

For the first time, a detailed study has shown the creatures travelling at heights in excess of 3,600ft and reaching speeds of 37mph.

Researchers also examined the stamina of the insects and found that they were able to remain in the air for up to two hours.

Up until now, scientists believed that anything over seven foot was a long-distance flight for a ladybird – but the new data shows they can actually travel up to 74 miles in a single flight.

The study of the common or garden ladybird was undertaken using a monitoring device at Rothamsted Research, an agricultural research institution based in Harpenden, Hertfordshire.

It involved an analysis of data recorded over more than a decade of two species, the seven-spot and the invasive harlequin.

Dr Lori Lawson Handley, from the University of Hull, who led the study, said: ‘When we saw them in the flight cubes, we could barely keep up with them. They were so incredibly quick. They are very active, fast fliers and are built to fly very well.’ 

The recording equipment used by researchers sends radar signals vertically, in a cone shape, to an altitude of almost 5,000ft.

The harlequin ladybird is one of the most numerous types, along with the seven-spot ladybird, and both share their incredible traits

The harlequin ladybird is one of the most numerous types, along with the seven-spot ladybird, and both share their incredible traits

It is able to detect the direction of flight, speed and altitude, of all objects that pass through this airspace.

It can also detect the size and shape of each item, which allowed the team to tell which were ladybirds.

While most ladybirds were detected at lower altitudes, between 500ft and 1,600ft, the highest recorded were at around 3,600ft.


  •   There are 46 ladybird species in Britain but the seven-spot and the invasive harlequin are the most numerous.
  • The insects fly by pulling out their distinctive red and black shell casings – or elytra – and holding them out wide.
  • These are used as static forewings, to protect the insects and help keep them stable, while the thinner hindwings are used to power them.
  • Scientists have found that their wings beat around 85 times per second, continuously throughout the flight.
  • Ladybirds rely on a protein rich diet of aphids, to obtain enough energy to remain airborne.
  • The bold colours and markings on their wings help to warn off potential predators.

The research, published in the journal PLoS ONE, also found the average speed recorded was 20mph, although some flew at almost double this speed.

The fastest ladybirds were seen at the greatest heights, where they were able to take more advantage of stronger wind speeds.

The monitoring equipment was not able to establish to what extent their flying speed was ‘wind assisted’.

However, high velocities were also observed in a second strand of the research, which involved studying the insects’ flight in a Perspex box in a laboratory.

Average flight time was found to be around 37 minutes, but to the surprise of researchers, they could remain airborne for up to two hours.

Dr Lawson Handley told the Sunday Telegraph: ‘We were expecting them to go for about 15 minutes. It means that if they are flying at their maximum speed of 37mph for two hours, they can cover 74 miles. Whether they are doing that in the field, we don’t know. They have that capability. This is another side of ladybirds people don’t see.’

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