I opened the door of my freezer, took a tiny ladybug out of a tupperware container, and set it down on a piece of white paper. It lay completely still. That was effective, I thought, snapping a few photos and counting spots. Seven? Eight? Nine? Some looked more like smudges. Three minutes later, the ladybug still hadn’t started moving, and I started to feel guilty.
Did you know that native ladybugs are disappearing? (And not just into my freezer?) According to the findings of the Lost Ladybug Project, a citizen science project based out of Ithaca, NY, native ladybugs across North America are becoming increasingly rare, and introduced species of ladybugs are becoming more and more common. Ladybugs feed on insects, including aphids, fly larvae and small caterpillars. As a result, many non-native species of ladybugs have been imported and released in the United States to help with pest control on agricultural crops. These non-native species of ladybug are believed to compete with and displace native ladybugs.Hippodamia convergens, a native species of Ladybug. Northwest Reno, April 12, 2015.
To learn more, the Lost Ladybug Project is collecting photos and observations from people all over the country. The most recent findings published on the Lost Ladybug Project website show about half (56%) of the ladybugs that they have documented in North America are introduced foreign species. Many (61%) are of an introduced species called Harmonia axyridis, the harlequin ladybird. So far, the Lost Ladybug Project has gathered over 31,000 records of ladybugs in North America. As you can see in the map above, they haven’t had much participation from within the Great Basin. Does this mean we don’t have ladybugs in Nevada, or does this mean nobody has been looking?Lost Ladybug Project data, April 29, 2015. Source: www.lostladybugproject.org.
In February, Dr. Leslie Allee from the Lost Ladybug Project posted a message on the Truckee River Guide website, which read: “Anyone sending in photos of ladybugs found in the Truckee River region will make a big contribution of data to our research. The numbers so far:
- Total ladybug photos from North America: 30,000+
- From the State of Nevada: 77
- From Incline Village: 2
To see what kinds of ladybugs have been found in Incline Village and Nevada: http://www.lostladybug.org/contributors.php (use pull down menus to Filter by State, Select Nevada). Looking forward to seeing what you find,”
I haven’t found a ladybug near the Truckee River yet, but I’ve been looking. I have, however, found two different species in my yard in Northwest Reno in the last two weeks, and tried to take photos for the Lost Ladybug Project. The first ladybug was faster than I anticipated. It ran to the edge of the white paper I was using for a backdrop, and took off across the carpet. It ran too fast for me to get my camera in focus. Exploring the Lost Ladybug Project website, I found the following instructions:
“Chill out!! The problem with collected (disturbed) ladybugs is that they will probably be too active to get a good image unless you slow them down a little…Ladybugs can be chilled in a freezer safely for 5 minutes (over six may kill them) and this will quiet them for 2-4 minutes.”
I placed the ladybug in the freezer for about 5 minutes, took it out, and photographed it. It lay as still as a rock for several minutes afterward, and I started to worry. I held it in my hand, and breathed on it to warm it up. Finally, I saw one of its legs begin to move, then another. Finally it started walking, and I put it back outside in the sun where I found it.I think this is the seven-spotted ladybug, Coccinella septempunctata. Northwest Reno, April 21, 2015.
Have you seen a ladybug lately? If you see one down by the river, Truckee River Guide AND the Lost Ladybug Project would like to know about it! Here is a field guide with identification tips, from www.lostladybugproject.org.