Scientists are asking children, adults, families, educators and everyone from two to 102-years-old to join a citizens-science group to help our ladybugs.
Ladybugs were once one of the most common bugs found across the U.S. and Canada. Controlling pests that attack farm harvests, balancing the ecosystems in forests and fields, their industriousness is an important part of the ecosystem.
During the past two decades as invasive look-alike ladybugs expanded their territories and pollution and habitat loss have crowded them out, species of Native ladybugs began vanishing and the invasive species began increasing. These include the multicolored Asian ladybug, checkerboard ladybug and the seven-spotted ladybug.
The larger, rounder multicolored Asian ladybug had been introduced as a biological control for scale bugs then mass produced across the lands. It even eats ladybug larvae. The checkerboard ladybug, which is small and yellow, hitched a ride from Europe through the St. Lawrence River in the 1960s and has since been traveling steadily southward. The seven-spotted ladybug, also from Europe, came to North America in 1956. Its population extended its range as the Native nine-spotted and two-spotted began disappearing.
“This has happened very quickly and we don’t know how this shift happened, what impact it will have, and how we can prevent more native species from becoming so rare,” said John E. Losey, Cornell University entomologist.
In June 2007 the Lost Ladybug collaborators, headed by Losey, received a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to expand the program throughout New York and extend it nationally. Their goal is to use citizen science to bring more participation in the search for the bugs. The ladybugs are collected into vials with twigs and drops of water. The date, time and place they were found are written down. The discoveries are placed on a gray square and their pictures are taken. Digital images are sent to the projects website, or color prints can be mailed to the university. The ladybugs are returned to where they were found.
The database will help scientists understand the shifting changes on earth, help farmers with crops and further understanding of rare species and the ecosystems in which they live. There are more than 5,000 species of ladybugs around the earth. About 450 are Native to North America. It’s not yet known if the new species inhabiting the continent will serve the same function or favor the same habitats as the native species.
In turn, youth will learn about the place of the ladybug in the community of nature and the importance of biodiversity and conservation for the web of life through hands-on participation in research. Educational materials, books, collection viles and nets are provided through Cornell University.
The project’s website will post instructions for finding collection sites, making nets, photographing ladybugs, submitting data and uploading photos. The website will also offer an automated identification feature to provide people with real-time feedback on species that have been collected. Ladybug lore, myths, songs and culturally based stories are being posted to explain the relationships between ladybugs, pests and our food.
As of this year, more than 3,000 ladybugs will be in the new data display sent in by hundreds of participants across the U.S. and Canada.
For more information visit the Lost Ladybug Project.