The Great Ladybug Mystery Where Have All the Ladybugs Gone?

ladybug mystery, credit: Diego Langellotti, FlickrCCUntil the mid-1980s, North America’s native nine-spotted ladybug, Coccinella novemnotata, ranged across America and through southern Canada aiding gardens and farmers. The ladybugs ate aphids on various crops including alfalfa, clover, corn, cotton, potatoes and soybeans. Then they vanished. They were thought to have disappeared into extinction.

Rallying to the bugs’ aid, in 2000 Cornell researchers coordinated with 4-H Master Gardeners to survey ladybugs in the state of New York. In June 2007 the Lost Ladybug Project, headed by Cornell entomologist John Losey, received a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to expand the program nationally.

There are more than 5,000 species of ladybugs worldwide; about 450 are native to North America. Invasive ladybugs like the multicolored Asian ladybug, checkerboard ladybug and seven-spotted ladybug have been steadily increasing as the native ladybug decreases. It is not yet known if the newcomer ladybugs do the same job or live in the same types of places.

The ladybug survey is inviting children in American Indian, rural, farming, and migrant communities to become citizen scientists and help to develop one of the largest, most accessible biological databases that will help scientists understand what caused the recent changes and how to preserve the species. The goal is to involve around 10,000 children and generate some 250,000 sightings.

The project’s website posts instructions for finding collection sites, making nets, photographing ladybugs, submitting data and uploading photos. Educational materials are also available, focusing on concepts of biodiversity, conservation and ladybug identification and lifecycle.

CONTACT: The Lost Ladybug Project.