The two-spotted ladybug—a native species that has been in decline for decades—was spotted by volunteers in Jamaica Plain last month, the first time the species has been seen east of the Mississippi in years.
The Lost Ladybug Project (LLP) is a national science initiative aimed at documenting declining native ladybug populations by using pictures provided by volunteers. It will hold at least one JP program this summer.
Ladybugs are an important part of natural pet control. Native ladybug species, like the two-spotted, have been in decline for years, partially due to invasive species like the Asian multicolored ladybug. But according to LLP volunteer and JP resident Michelle Vedder, scientists who study insects can’t pinpoint all the reasons why they’re disappearing, which is part of the reason why finding them is so notable.
“The fact that [the two-spotted ladybug] has been found east of Minnesota is very exciting. Not only does it mean that this species has not disappeared, it also means we can study and observe its surrounding habitat to gather information about where else to find it and really get down to the details of why its numbers have declined so much,” Vedder told the Gazette last week.
“Volunteers in the LLP have found more rare ladybugs in more different places than comparable surveys by scientists. There just aren’t enough scientists,” LLP Director of Curriculum Development and Outreach Leslie Allee told the Gazette last week.
The Cornell University-based and National Science Foundation-funded LLP invites people to document and submit any sightings of rare native ladybugs. Over 20,000 ladybugs have been documented as part of the initiative.
Vedder said that she plans on creating LLP projects in JP this summer. One is already planned at Allandale Farm, which will be having its summer camp participants searching for ladybugs weekly with the help of the LLP.
Native ladybugs have been disappearing from old habitats for decades with no solid explanation why. Some species like the transverse ladybug seem to have disappeared from parts of the U.S. altogether, Vedder said, while other ladybugs are only found in certain places.
“This could be related to invasive species, habitat loss, pesticide use, or even simply the lack of people looking,” Vedder explained. “The problem with all of these shifts is that we don’t how, or if, it is effecting the population of plant pests that ladybugs are so good at keeping in check.”
This is why the LLP counts on its thousands of adult and child volunteers to go on ladybug hunts around the country, Vedder said.
“The LLP thrives off of ‘normal folks’,” she said. “They are our bread and butter and we would not be able to be as effective as we are without them. A search doesn’t even need to be planned. All you have to do is take a picture of that ladybug that landed on your shirt in your backyard garden and upload it to our site.”
All the materials required for a little “citizen science” are available at lostladybug.org, including many resources targeted at families, camps and other child-oriented groups.