New York’s state insect is the nine-spotted ladybug, but the rare bug has barely been seen east of the Mississippi for 30 years.
At the end of July, all that changed, when a researcher with the Agricultural Stewardship Program of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, based in Riverhead, found a nine-spotted ladybug on a sunflower while searching for the insect at Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett.
He sent his find to the directors of the Lost Ladybug Project at Cornell University in Ithaca, who visited the farm 10 days later and found 20 more nine-spotted ladybugs on the organic farm.
Professor John Losey is Cornell’s lead researcher on the project, and he was with the group that found the treasure trove of bugs.
Mr. Losey said ladybugs tend to be attracted to organic farms, where there are no pesticides and are an abundance of aphids, bean beetles and other bugs that ladybugs prey on.
“When we went back, they weren’t really on the sunflowers. They were on a large planting of green beans,” he said.
“There are a lot of aphids and bean beetles in beans, and right next to that was a planting of cosmos and zinnias. That’s where we found a lot of individuals.”
But why such a large concentration of nine-spotted ladybugs have congregated in one small area on Long Island, after being missing from the Northeast for decades, still remains a mystery. Mr. Losey said that there are likely more nine-spotted ladybugs to be found on Long Island, since his team also found another one of the bugs at another site operated by Quail Hill Farm half a mile down the road from the initial treasure trove.
“Not every homeowner is going to find one in their yard, but we encourage other people to look,” he said.
Mr. Losey’s team is collecting data from citizen scientists throughout North America, and asks volunteers to photograph all ladybugs they see so that his team can track not only where the rare ladybugs are, but where the common ones are abundant as well.
Volunteers can upload their photographs at www.lostladybug.org.
To learn more about the project, check out Thursday’s issue of The Suffolk Times.