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Finding three "most wanted" ladybugs

By Don Comis
Agricultural Research Service Information Staff

Ever had an interest in the federal "most wanted" list?

If so, you can put your investigative skills to work to help identify some "most wanted" ladybugs that have nearly disappeared in the United States.

Suspect number one is Coccinella novemnotata, also known as the nine-spotted ladybug or C-9. The second one, wanted almost as badly as C-9, is Adalia bipunctata, the two-spotted ladybug. Number three on the list is C. trifasciata, the three-banded ladybug.

All of them have unusual markings that are somewhat similar: black spots or bands. You can see their mug shots at: http://hosts.cce.cornell.edu/ladybeetles.

If you find them, please capture them alive, and then release them. But before you turn them loose again, put them in a freezer for five minutes to slow them down. Then take a picture of them with your camera and send the pictures to the Lost Ladybug Project, a collaborative effort between the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), South Dakota State University and Cornell University.

Entomologists are worried because ladybug species, particularly these three, seem to have begun disappearing the past few decades. And ladybugs eat aphids, which are pests that destroy trees, garden plants and farm crops.

So the scientists in the Lost Ladybug Project are asking for help from anyone who can send in photos of ladybugs. Scientists can look at the photos and identify the species. Then they can learn how many are actually out there.

This is a chance to become a citizen scientist. The nice thing is you can do this at almost any age.

In fact, it was an 11-year-old girl and her 10-year-old brother who found a C. novemnotata in 2006, near their home in Arlington, Virginia. This was the first sighting of the nine-spotted ladybug in the eastern United States in more than 14 years. It proved the species was not extinct. This is extremely valuable information.

The species that are disappearing are those that have always been in the United States. There are many species of ladybugs that came to this country from abroad. Scientists worry that these ladybugs might not be as good as our ladybugs at protecting plants from pests. And they worry that these invading ladybugs might be crowding out the ones that are disappearing.

The scientists are considering other possible reasons for the disappearances, such as development crowding them out or pesticides killing them.

In the meantime, you can help by grabbing a camera and becoming a citizen scientist/detective to help solve part of the mystery.

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