Beyond being cute bugs, lady beetles (aka ladybugs or ladybirds) are incredibly helpful creatures, as many gardeners can testify. They protect crops by eating certain types of pests, and their presence reduces the need for insecticides.
Unfortunately, these gardeners’ best friends started rapidly declining in the 1970′s and ’80s according to researchers, and today some native species of North America are on the brink of extinction.
So where did all the ladybugs go?
The Lost Ladybug Project is looking into this question. The project, which began in 2000 after Cornell scientists partnered with 4-H master gardeners, is trying to find out where native types of ladybugs are living today and why so many have disappeared. An invasive beetle species imported from Europe and Asia is one possible culprit.
The Lost Ladybug Project has an unconventional research team. Over 50 percent of the participants in the project are under the age of 14, according to USA Today. And two key discoveries were made by 11-year old, Jilene, and 10 year-old, Jonathan back in 2006.
Approaching their goals with a “citizen’s science” model, leaders of The Lost Ladybug Project are encouraging anyone and everyone to help locate ladybugs: “Find ‘em, photograph ‘em, and send ‘em,” they ask. John Losey, co-founder of the project, firmly believes that “citizen science is the best way to educate and enthuse volunteers about the process of science and the best way to shed light on major environmental problems,” according to the group’s website.
The project is specifically working to find and preserve three species: the nine-spotted or C9s, the transverse and the two-spotted.
Check out www.lostladybug.org for all kinds of interesting information about ladybugs. The site includes lesson plans, games, coloring books, and even a song–all focused on teaching kids to appreciate ladybugs and to participate in preserving the species.