Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Lost Ladybugs

The ladybugs I used to find when I was a kid seemed to be a lot darker than the ones I find now in my garden. For a long time I’ve wondered if that was because my memory was just enhancing the experience, adding a little bit of Technicolor glow to my 1970s suburban childhood. But a recent release from the USDA Agriculture Research Station made me think that there was more to the story.

Seems that the ARS actually thinks that some of those red and black bugs from my childhood are disappearing from the landscape. They may be getting displaced by the transplanted Asian lady beetles. The Asian ones often come out when we get a cold snap followed by a warm spell in the autumn. During the cold they nestle under siding on the sunny, southern side of buildings. When the warmth returns they emerge, sometimes covering entire walls in massive number.

The Asian ladybugs are often sold in the US as garden helpers and bio-control for backyard gardens. They are sometimes even advertised as a healthy step toward organic garden control, and gardeners will sometimes take bags full of them home from the hardware store, hoping to control pests on their flowers and vegetables. But little research has been done on them until recently, and so it has remained unclear what affect their presence was actually having on the larger ecosystem.

Other things may also be displacing the native ladybugs, such as land use change and urban sprawl and increased pesticide use. It is unclear what exactly may be happening to the beetles, particularly since it is unclear how many are still out there.

Now the ARS research group is asking citizens to do some casual field work on the topic. Scientists working for the ARS in conjunction with Cornell University are asking people to photograph the ladybugs they find in their backyard and send the photos to their lab.

“Besides being incredibly cool and charismatic ladybugs are also essential predators in both farms and forests that keep us from being overrun with pests (like aphids and mealybugs). In many areas the native ladybugs are being replaced by exotic ones. This has happened very quickly and we don't know how this shift happened, what impact it will have (e.g. will the exotic species be able to control pests as well as our familiar native ones always have) and how we can prevent more native species from becoming so rare,” said a recent press release about the project.

For more information about this citizen science project, visit “The Lost Ladybug Project” at

For more information about Asian ladybugs, you can visit the ARS fact sheet at:
(Ladybug photo courtesy of the Lost Ladybug website and press release.)

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