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.

Hunting the Lost Ladybug

For the second year in a row, we have hiked into an area of Whiskeytown National Recreation Area to discover ladybugs.  The year before we moved, the Roots & Shoots group that we now belong had hiked in for the first time.  In this short, three year span, our group leader has observed a significant decline in the number of ladybugs present.  The decline has been so significant, even the kids could recognize a change from 2012 to 2013.

Most coccienellids overwinter as adults, aggregating on the south sides of large objects such as trees or houses during the winter months, dispersing in response to increasing day length in the spring.  In 2012, we observed them covering the perimeter of a pine tree and all amongst the leaf and pine needle litter on the forest floor.  Once we noticed them, it was difficult not to step on them. I blogged about our discovery here, Ladybugs Ladybugs Ladybugs, and also reported our spotting to Project Noah – I encourage you to follow the links – the pictures give some idea as to how many there were present.

From the Lost Ladybug Project website:  “Across North America ladybug species distribution is changing.  Over the past twenty years several native ladybugs that were once very common have become extremely rare.  During this same time ladybugs from other places have greatly increased both their numbers and range.  Some ladybugs are simply found in new places.  This is happening very quickly and we don’t know how, or why, or what impact it will have on ladybug diversity or the role that ladybugs play in keeping plant-feeding insect populations low.”

This year, we took part in the Lost Ladybug Project for the first time (we only recently learned of this citizen science opportunity).  Our group leader reported our data and the species we observed was confirmed as Hippodamia convergens, a native species but not the elusive 9-spotted species that is of most concern.  Commonly known as the convergent lady beetle, Hippodamia convergens is one of the most common lady beetles in North America and is found throughout the continent.

Adults are slightly elongated in shape and can range from 4-7 mm in length. They have a prominent black and white pattern behind the head, and black spots on red forewings. Beetles may have a full complement of 13 spots or they may have only a few. The white lines that converge behind the head are common to all individuals.

Ladybugs Ladybugs Ladybugs

We met our Roots & Shoots group this morning for our monthly outing.  First, I should clarify, that since we have moved we are now involved with a new group and the nature walks are led by someone other than myself.  Our leader, Karen, is very knowledgeable (particularly about birds) and it is such a delight for me to be a participant rather than the the facilitator.  Being new to the area, it is also a blessing because she knows the area much more so than I.  She has been able to take us to places with secrets known to very few.

Today was one of those days whereby secrets were revealed.  She shared with us a location in the area of Whiskeytown National Recreation Area (that is as much as I’m willing to divulge for she stated that some collectors, if they knew the location, would come and scoop them up to sell).

Most coccinellids overwinter as adults, aggregating on the south sides of large objects such as trees or houses during the winter months, dispersing in response to increasing day length in the spring.  We observed them all around the pine tree pictured above, not just on the south side.  On the forest floor, there were literally millions of ladybugs aggregating under the leaf litter.  One had to be careful when taking a step.

Our next step is to journal our discovery in our nature journals.  I’ll be sure to share our entries soon.  Undoubtedly, however, this is one outing we will never forget.  🙂