• Avoidance;
  • cuticular hydrocarbons;
  • footprints;
  • inter-specific communication;
  • predator–prey spatial dynamics

Abstract 1. Insect predators often aggregrate to patches of high prey density and use prey chemicals as cues for oviposition. If prey have mutualistic guardians such as ants, however, then these patches may be less suitable for predators.

2. Ants often tend aphids and defend them against predators such as ladybirds. Here, we show that ants can reduce ladybird performance by destroying eggs and physically attacking larvae and adults.

3. Unless ladybirds are able to defend against ant attacks they are likely to have adaptations to avoid ants. We show that Adalia bipunctata ladybirds not only move away from patches with Lasius niger ants, but also avoid laying eggs in these patches. Furthermore, ladybirds not only respond to ant presence, but also detect ant semiochemicals and alter oviposition strategy accordingly.

4. Ant semiochemicals may signal the extent of ant territories allowing aphid predators to effectively navigate a mosaic landscape of sub-optimal patches in search of less well-defended prey. Such avoidance probably benefits both ants and ladybirds, and the semiochemicals could be regarded as a means of cooperative communication between enemies.

5. Overall, ladybirds respond to a wide range of positive and negative oviposition cues that may trade-off with each other and internal motivation to determine the overall oviposition strategy.