Our Annual Ladybug Hike

Some species of native ladybugs in North America are disappearing. In just the last 20 years these beneficial predators of farm and garden pests have become extremely rare. This rapid decline is of great concern. Recognizing the need to take action, a number of schools in New York State began the Lost Ladybug Project in 2004.

The Lost Ladybug Project is a citizen science project that people of all ages to look for any ladybugs they can find, and then send in pictures of each one. One of the first major discoveries came in 2006 when Jilene (age 11) and Jonathan (age 10) Penhale found a rare ninespotted ladybug near their Virginia home. This was the first ninespotted ladybug seen in the eastern U.S. in 14 years. Their finding confirmed that the species was not extinct and that with enough people working together we can find even these rare species.

With recent funding from the National Science Foundation the Lost Ladybug Project has expanded and now anyone in North America can participate. Both common and rare ladybugs, whether native or introduced, are important to find. They all contribute to understanding where different species of ladybugs can be found and how rare they really are. Once we know where the rare ladybugs can be found, we can try to protect their habitat and save them!

ladybughikeWe have been participating since 2012 when we first learned of the project. You can read about our earlier discoveries here:

 All About Ladybugs

What do ladybugs eat? A single ladybug larva will eat about 400 medium-size aphids during its development to the pupal stage. Males may eat less but an adult female will eat about 300 medium-size aphids before she lays eggs. She can eat about 75 aphids in a day and may consume more than 5,000 aphids in her lifetime!

Did you know that ladybugs use their antennae to touch, smell, and taste?

What would happen if all the ladybugs were gone? Both adult and larval ladybugs are known primarily as predators of aphids but they also prey on many other soft-bodied insects and insect eggs. Many of these are agricultural pest such as scale insects, mealybugs, spider mites and eggs of the Colorado Potato Beetle and European Corn Borer. A few ladybugs feed on plant and pollen mildews and many ladybugs supplement their meat diet with pollen.

Beetles chew from side to side, not up and down, like people do.

How did ladybugs get their name? The most common legend is that during the middle ages in Europe, swarms of aphids were destroying crops. The farmers prayed to the Virgin Mary for help – and help came in the form of beetles that devoured the plant-destroying pests and saved the crops! The grateful farmers named these insects “Our Lady’s beetles,” a name which had endured to present day.

How long do they live? After a female lays her eggs, they will hatch in between three and ten days, depending on ambient temperature. The larva will live and grow for about a month before it enters the pupal stage, which lasts about 15 days. After the pupal stage, the adult lady beetle will live up to one year.

ladybughike2Why are they so brightly colored? Why do they have spots?  The bright colors serve as a warning to indicate to any potential predators of the distasteful repellents the beetle will release if attacked. The spots are part of the bright warning pattern and vary depending upon species.

What eats ladybugs? Lady beetles are not commonly eaten by birds or other vertebrates, who avoid them because they exude a distasteful fluid and commonly play dead to avoid being preyed upon. However, several insects, such as assassin bugs and stink bugs, as well as spiders may commonly kill ladybugs.

How many different species are there in the US? In the world? There have been over 500 species of ladybugs identified in the United States, and over 4500 in the entire world. Only about 70 of these are the cute red, yellow, and black ones we think of most.

Ladybugs can be found all over the world and can move between continents. Introductions of new species can affect natives. What you will be doing as part of the Lost Ladybug Project is sampling the ladybugs in your habitats.

Inquiry Challenge

The degree to which specific ladybug species are associated with particular plant hosts (or their prey) is still an unsolved mystery. This would make a wonderful science fair project for advanced students.

You may also be interested in my Ultimate Guide to Studying Insects. Here you will find links to curriculum and resources for the major insect orders.

If you are interested in participating in the Lost Ladybug Project, visit the website to learn more. There is also an app to enable you a fast way to upload and share images on the go!
ladybugs journal

We’ve always enjoyed taking part in the monthly challenges at Handbook of Nature Study. This month, our selected challenge was Incorporate a Photo. Later in the week, we utilized one of our photos to create a nature journal entry to commemorate our outing.

About Eva Varga

Eva is passionate about education. She has extensive experience in both formal and informal settings. She presently homeschools her two young children, teaches professional development courses through the Heritage Institute, and writes a middle level secular science curriculum called Science Logic. In addition to her work in education, she is an athlete, competing in Masters swimming events and marathons. In her spare time she enjoys reading, traveling, learning new languages, and above all spending time with her family. ♥