By Christine Bryant
It may be a tiny insect, but the nine-spotted ladybug has attracted big attention for its elusiveness.
Although in the mid-1980s it was the most common lady beetle in the northeastern United States, its population has diminished dramatically over the past three decades – leading some researchers to believe that it may be extinct.
Two children discovered one near their home in Virginia in October 2006, however, and since then, a new citizen science project launched at Cornell University, called the Lost Ladybug Project, has educated the public on the importance of biodiversity.
The project also has recruited conservationists of all ages to document the current status of the nine-spotted ladybug and other rare ladybug species, including students at Reynoldsburg High School’s Summit campus.
“(The nine-spotted ladybug) was speculated to be gone completely from North America due to other invasive species moving through the United States, climate change and changes in land use,” said Andrea Callicoat, a biology teacher at Summit’s eSTEM Academy.
As of Oct. 13, a total of 34,638 ladybug photos and documentation have been submitted to the cooperative study with Cornell researchers and 4-H Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners. Those include documentation from Reynoldsburg’s eSTEM students during a field study in September for Callicoat and Rich Ladowitz’s biology class.
“The entomologists at Cornell University who are leading this study are asking people to join them in the search, especially school students, to broaden the coverage areas studied,” Callicoat said. “Our eSTEM students went out and collected ladybugs in and around the wetlands are here on our school property at Summit.”
Students found several ladybugs, photographed and identified them, and submitted the photos to the Cornell study at www.lostladybugproject.org.
“One of the ladybugs collected by Frederick Leatherwood appeared to possibly be the elusive nine-spot, but was confirmed by entomologists at Cornell to be another type of ladybug, a close relative,” Callicoat said.
While disappointing, she said it was a good lesson in the need for continued persistence in searching and learning.
“Students still had a great time learning and practicing the active process of biological field study with species collection and identification, and were able to gain a better understanding of the importance of biodiversity, conservation of wildlife and the essential role of these particular insects as a natural form of pest control and in the balance of nature,” Callicoat said.
The study, she adds, is just one example of how eSTEM students are able to participate in an actual field study, contribute to a national ecology study and see the relevance of how biology coursework relates to real world applications.