JOHN LOSEY: The purpose of the Lost Ladybug Project is to recruit volunteers to go out in their own backyard, their own neighborhood, wherever they happen to be hiking or out in the garden, and have them find ladybugs, take digital images of those ladybugs, and send those into us so that we can put them in our database.
It's important because we have a group of native ladybug species that are declining rapidly. And in fact, some of those may be going extinct. That's what we're concerned about. And we have a group of introduced ladybug species from other countries that may be displacing the native ones.
And since every ladybug, they do sort of the same job in terms of suppressing pest populations. But they each do their job a little bit differently. And what we're concerned about, and this is why people are concerned about biodiversity in general, is that if you go from a really diverse, complex of native ladybugs to a less diverse, complex dominated by foreign ladybugs, then we may have trouble suppressing the pests that need to be suppressed.
They're doing experiments to see if you put them together, head to head, how do they compete with each other? Do they compete? Do they eat each other? And what is the outcome going to be?
And so one of the first experiments that we've done in this realm is we put together larva of the two. And we start them when they first hatch out of the eggs. We choose them that hatched out on the same day.
And then we rear them through. We put in some aphids. They've eaten most of the aphids in here. And we rear them through and see, do they both survive? Does only one survive? Does neither survive?
The other hypothesis that we're working on here in the lab is we're looking into whether the seven-spot, which is the foreign one, and the nine-spot, which is the native one, may have not outcompeted each other or eaten each other. They may have bred with each other. They may have started to interbreed and hybridize.
And so there's been cases, like with the Black Duck and the mallard here in the northeastern US, where you can have a foreign species, or one at least not from the region, come in, and it hybridizes with the one that's native. And then you essentially don't find the native one anymore because they all look like the interloper. And so one of the things that we work on is to see whether these two very closely related species can actually mate with each other. And if they do mate with each other, what are their offspring look like?
So we have two kinds of rearing that we do. One mode of rearing is we have some fairly large colonies in these big tubs. And we've cut holes so that we have good air flow.
And in the tubs, we put in plants that we've infested with aphids. And so in these kinds of setups, the ladybugs are just crawling around on their own. You can see one here on the lid. And they eat the aphids.
And they lay their eggs on little bits of paper towel. And then we can take those eggs out or just let them grow in there. And the generations go on and on and on.
The larvae eat all aphids. Have you seen the aphid rearing room? So we have a greenhouse across the way where we grow fava bean plants. There are huge bean.
And basically, you bring the plants over when they're very small, when they're just-- here's the size-- this one is sort of a regrow. But this is about the size that we normally bring them over in. And these are mostly pea aphids. And you can see they come in a red and a green form.
And so you just you sprinkle some aphids on the new growth of the plants. And then as the plants grow, they support more and more aphids. And we can have a huge colony of those pretty easily because aphids can reproduce incredibly quickly.
In fact, aphids, in this stage, they don't mate. They're just all females, and they're laying clones of themselves. And they're born pregnant. So they can do a lot of quick reproduction.
So for some experiments, we want to keep very controlled the conditions that they're growing up in. And so we rear them in individual cups. And you can see here, here is-- we rear them all the way up through they become adults. There's a pupil case. And there is the ladybug that came out of that pupil case.
That is a nine-spot ladybug. That is the state insect of New York. It's right in the state code of legislation that that is our official state insect. And we hadn't seen it in New York for over 29 years until it was found this summer by a volunteer in Long Island. And it turns out, there's a really viable population there.
So in these cups, they go all the way-- we can take them all the way from-- here's some nice orange eggs on a leaf. And they can go all the way from that through the larva and then up through the adults. Here's a whole tray of nine-spotted larva. These are all from Long Island, [INAUDIBLE] bugs.
And you can see if you-- now here's a plant that the aphids fed on for too long. And this is what would happen to our crops, if we didn't have ladybugs. They would all look sort of like this, shriveling and dead.
Well, people should care about ladybugs because if we didn't have ladybugs, we could not raise the food and fiber that we need to survive. So they're integral to us doing agriculture the way that we need to do it. And so if we can track what's happening with the ladybugs, then if we start to have a problem, we may be able to figure out what that is and take some steps to remedy that problem.
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The New York State insect is the 9 spotted Ladybug. Ladybugs, both as larvae and adults, make their living eating aphids. Some years ago another species of Ladybug was introduced into the United States and seems to have replaced the 9 spotted species throughout much of its range.
The Lost Ladybug project seeks to determine the different species of ladybugs and where they occur in North America. Many folk have contributed photographs and quite recently one of those photographs from Long Island showed the 9 Spotted Ladybug. It turns out that there is a thriving colony of the 9 Spotted Ladybugs on an organic farm on Long Island.
Professor John Losey and his group are now looking at interactions between the 9 spotted species and the import to see why one replaced the other.