Guest Essay by Kip Hansen – 28 September 2020
[ Just a note about a curious thing to lighten your day. ]
This is the time of year that ladybugs start to look for places to spend the winter. They don’t migrate like songbirds, but hibernate, more like bears or turtles. Many of us find ladybugs inside our homes once the weather starts to get cold, or, even more often, in the spring when the ladybugs that have been sleeping inside our home’s walls all winter come out on the inside of the house instead of the outside!
Ladybugs are Good Bugs!
In your flower or vegetable garden, ladybugs are beneficial – both the adult (ladybug) and the larvae eat aphids, mealybugs and spider mites, all of which cause damage to your plants. Ladybugs are so helpful that they are sold as natural “pesticides”, shipped to your home for release in your garden.
The most commonly commercially sold ladybug is the Asian Ladybug – often with thirteen spots, although there are many forms – which has become the predominate species found in the United States. It seems that Asian ladybug larvae eat not only aphids, mealybugs and spider mites, but the larvae of other ladybug species as well! This has possibly contributed to the decline in populations of other ladybugs in the United States.
The Lost Ladybug
The Official State Insect of New York State is its native Nine-Spotted Ladybug.
Only one small problem, for almost 30 years, the nine-spotted ladybug hadn’t been spotted in New York State. So, in 2000, Cornell University started The Lost Ladybug Project. In 2011, on an organic farm in Amagansett, NY, Peter Priolo, a volunteer the Lost Ladybug Project, found a single nine-spotted ladybug on July 30 in a patch of sunflowers during a group search he had organized.
The NY Times reported:
As of 2006, only five nine-spotted ladybugs had been found in North America in the previous 10 years, none of them in the East. Then one lone ladybug was found in Arlington, Va. None had been found in the East since, and only 90 have been reported in North America.
Researchers from Cornell University subsequently collected enough nine-spotted ladybugs from the new found colony to enable them to start a captive breeding project. Here a video from Cornell about it, just under 5 minutes long.
In the video, we hear that it is the seven-spotted ladybug, which came over from Europe, is displacing the nine-spotted ladybug in New York State.
On each wing cover, we see three-and-a-half spots – making seven. Our Lost Ladybug has four-and-a-half spots on each wind cover, making nine. This means, as far as spots go, that the Lost Ladybug Project is about those two missing spots.
Ecologically, of course, it is much more complicated and nuanced. Not all ladybug species behave in exactly the same manner, don’t eat exactly the same prey and may not fill the exact same niches in either their original or current environments.
For better or for worse, The Lost Ladybug Project is breeding and releasing colonies of nine-spotted ladybugs through Cornell County Extension agent offices.
A handy ladybug identification poster is available from the Lost Ladybug Project here [ pdf ].
Those interested, especially those being forced to homeschool kids through the fall and winter, might want to visit The Lost Ladybug Project website. Citizen Scientists of all ages can find, photograph and report sightings on their web site. Any child that can count to ten will be able to participate. Even I can do it.
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All of my children were homeschooled at one time or another, all for varying reasons. We considered this kind of an opportunity a windfall.
Of course, during my “homesteading days” we raised a huge garden, mostly organic from necessity, and my kids were great at finding and identifying the various insects, both good and bad – they also ate most of the vegetables right in the garden. My wife and I had to pick anything we hoped to get into the house.
Glad to hear from you on insects and gardening issues.
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