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Catching Ladybugs for Citizen Science

June 8, 2018

This blog post is brought to you by Richa Patel, Prairie Ridge’s YAIO summer intern.  Richa will complete her degrees at NC State in aerospace engineering and political science this fall.  Thanks Richa!

On some Citizen Science Saturdays, you can find kids and adults alike bending close to the ground, reaching down into the milkweed, and raising their hands in triumph when they finally capture the little red beetle that caught their eye. Those are the mornings where we’re participating in the Lost Ladybug Project here at Prairie Ridge Ecostation.

Ladybugs that you could potentially spot at Prairie Ridge Ecostation. Photos by Chris Goforth.

The Lost Ladybug Project begin in 2000 with a coordination between Cornell researchers and 4-H Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners to survey ladybug populations across New York. Graduate students and elementary schoolers came together to search for ladybugs and, in 2006, a major discovery occurred: 10-year-old Jonathan and 11-year-old Jilene found a rare nine-spotted ladybug (Coccinella novemnotata). This nine-spotted ladybug was the first seen in the eastern U.S. in 14 years and was proof of the power of people coming together for science! Thus, in 2008, the National Science Foundation granted the Lost Ladybug Project funding, and citizens begin spotting and uploading data about ladybugs all around North America.

nine spotted ladybug

Endangered nine-spotted ladybug. Photo by the Lost Ladybug Project.

We’ve been doing it here at Prairie Ridge Ecostation since 2013. On one recent Citizen Science Saturday where we participated in the project, our group ended up collecting over 80 ladybugs! Most of these ladybugs were the Seven-spot Ladybug (Coccinella septempunctata), a non-native species from Europe. A keen-eyed participant, however, did spot a Convergent Ladybug (Hippodamia convergens), the only native ladybug we found that day! After we picked up and collected all the ladybugs, volunteers and staff here at Prairie Ridge Ecostation took pictures of them all individually and uploaded them to lostladybug.org, the website that keeps the aggregate data of ladybugs surveyed. Then, we released all of them back into the environment.

Ladybugs that you could potentially spot at Prairie Ridge Ecostation. Photos by Chris Goforth.

What does the Lost Ladybug Project do with all of this data? There are over 5,000 species of ladybugs around the world, and each one has its own significance to the ecosystem it exists in. With ladybugs particularly, the fewer the species, the more vulnerable ecosystems can become to the pest insects that ladybugs eat. The Lost Ladybug Project allows for researchers to know how common some ladybug species are in areas, how rare others are, and even how to reintroduce some rare ladybugs, like the Nine-spotted Ladybug, back into the environment.

Catching ladybugs is thrilling way to connect with nature while contributing to a citizen science project. Come join us at Prairie Ridge Station next time we go searching — or grab a jar and catch some ladybugs in your own backyard!

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