Science, environment, and LOST Ladybugs

By Scott Perez
Special to News From Indian Country Febuary 2011

Lost Ladybug Project


  Akwesasne Ladybug hunters
Seeing a ladybug brings good luck.  Ladybugs are a gardener’s friend. For years children sang. “Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home…” Everyone likes ladybugs.

Or, at least, everyone did like ladybugs.  Then something odd happened.  Ladybugs started to congregate by the thousands.  They swarmed to buildings, crawling under siding, into the eaves, and even into people’s houses, leaving a mess and dying inside.  They started to bite and smelled bad.  And folks began to wonder, “What is going on here?  Why did this start to happen?”

It started back in the 1970’s. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), realizing that ladybugs were good for the gardens and crops, decided that more of them would be better. So the USDA decided to start mass breeding programs to release the beetles.

But for some reason, rather than breed our native species, of which there are over 500 kinds in North America, they chose non-native species including Harmonia axyridis or multicolored Asian ladybug, and Coccinella septempunctata or seven-spotted ladybug. It is the multicolored Asian beetle that invades houses and buildings.  The seven-spotted has also become extremely abundant.

As the numbers of non-native ladybugs increased, native populations started to drop.  One of the most common native species, the nine-spotted ladybug, or Coccinella novemnotata, has now become one of the rarest. It has not been spotted in most of the United States in recent years. Surveys done in the past decade have found that up to 80% of the ladybugs reported are non-native species.  Yet it isn’t clear if the native species are declining because of the non-native increase, or if something else is going on.  Ladybugs are cannibalistic, eating their own young and the young of other species. Are they preying so heavily on native varieties that they are losing ground?  Are the non-natives becoming so populous that they are eating up the food supply? Or is it possible that the native varieties are becoming rare for some other reason and the non-natives are just filling the gaps? These are some of the questions researchers wanted to look at when they started the Lost Ladybug Project.

The Lost Ladybug Project (www.lostladybug.org) is a collaborative effort funded by the National Science Foundation.  Researchers from the Entomology Department at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY and from South Dakota State University in Brookings, SD are the primary investigators for the project. But trying to figure out what is going on with ladybugs across North America is a much bigger project than a handful of academic researchers can take on.

So the Lost Ladybug Project was designed as a citizen/science program.  The goal is to have people from everywhere on the lookout for ladybugs.  People who spot them are asked to take pictures and upload them to the project website. Each ladybug will be positively identified as to species and then its location will be mapped. The finders name will appear next to the pictures they submit.  In three years, over 3000 people have submitted over 10,000 pictures and over 100,000 people have visited the website.  The project is meant to be open ended with the website maintained every year. The maps and data are accessible to not only researchers, but the general public.  There is a children’s section and information for educators.  There are also a multitude of links.  The website is fun and educational for everyone.

Native Participation

 lco_ladybug-spotters.jpg
  Lac Courte Oreilles Ladybug hunters
When the project was being developed, the researchers felt that it was important to reach out to communities that are under-represented in science, especially Native communities.  Special funding was set aside to hire a Tribal Liaison and to purchase equipment for Native groups wanting to participate in the project. Children and adults from the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Tuscarora, Ojibwe, and Lakota Nations have participated.

Programs such as the Lost Ladybug Project can be beneficial to Native communities in many ways.  Environmental degradation from pollution, land use practices, and climate change is everywhere on this continent.  These issues affect Indigenous peoples physical, mental, and spiritual health.  Any program that helps people gain a better understanding of environmental change can help everyone.

We live in an interconnected world.  Science and technology have made great advances over the years.  Information, thoughts, and ideas can flow freely across boundaries.  But these advances have come with a high price. This constant flow distracts us from our environment and our relationship to it.  Our children lose, or never even know, their connection to the land. Land based cultures and communities struggle to survive.

Many communities have started programs and/or schools to teach language, culture, and the wisdom of the elders.   But this will not be enough to overcome the damage done. Children and adults must have a solid understanding of the science and technology. Programs such as this allow the knowledge of science and technology to be framed in a cultural context.  Looking for ladybugs allows people to see the bigger picture of nature and everything’s place in it.  It is a good way to involve people of all generations. There is freedom and flexibility to make the learning relevant and in local language. Children learn that science isn’t something done only in laboratories by people wearing white coats.  Science is something we all do everyday. Our observations are the gathering of data. The way our brains process this information is a form of experimentation that allows us to make sense of the world. The way that the ancestors learned how to adapt to the environment is also science. Observation, theories, and experimentation were done over a long period of time. As more Native people join the fields of science and technology, placing these western ways of knowing within an indigenous perspective, we can begin to work at solving the multitude of problems that face us.

Anyone wishing to learn more about the Lost ladybug Project can go to the website, www.lostladybug.org , or contact Dr. Leslie Allee at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..




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