Scouts on lookout for ladybugs
Haines Girl Scout Troop 4101 expects to be out this summer with homemade nets “fishing” for ladybugs.
Their efforts – that include an invitation for the public to participate – will be aimed at helping document changes to the species in Alaska, including looking for a relatively rare species of the bug reportedly spotted here in 2011.
“We are asking Alaskans for their help in documenting ladybugs because we suspect that unique population changes similar to those in the Lower 48 may occur or already may be occurring in Alaska,” said Dr. Leslie Allee, a researcher with the Lost Ladybug Project at Cornell University.
Girl Scout leader Edie Granger said the Scouts plan to make “sweep nets” from old pillowcases and twine, “sweeping” them over plants, to see what ladybugs they can find, and photograph them. Adding interest is the apparent discovery of a relatively rare species, “Coccinella johnsoni,” at Mud Bay in 2011.
That’s just out Granger’s front door.
The arrival of summer means it may be difficult to corral Scouts for the project, but Granger, a certified horticulturist, said the project should have local interest among gardeners and others. “Hopefully, we’ll be getting out there, but now is the time to be looking for them.”
Ladybugs are important, Allee said, for eating aphids and other pests that feed on food crops, including vegetables.
“Organic growers especially depend on ladybugs to control aphid pests and conventional growers can use pesticides less often when ladybugs are on the job. For certain food crops, research has shown that a variety of ladybug species gives better control of pest insects than just one type of ladybug,” Allee said.
According to Allee, several species of very common ladybugs have declined dramatically in the Lower 48 during the last 30 years. But several new ladybugs – brought from other countries for pest control – are expanding their range and may be outcompeting native species, Allee said in an email.
“Loss or decline of native species and invasion or dominance by a single new species may impact pest control in agricultural crops as well as upset natural ecosystems,” Allee said.
Because Alaska “is on the leading edge of climate change,” her program is hoping to track changes in ladybug populations over the next decades, Allee said.
Allee said although 23 species of ladybugs have been documented by the University of Alaska, her project has photos of only eight different species. “We are curious to know how many species still thrive in Alaska and if any new species have invaded Alaska,” she said.
Specifically, the transverse ladybug and the two-spotted ladybug have declined in many parts of the Lower 48 but are known to be in Alaska, she said. The Lost Ladybug Project has photos of Alaskan transverse ladybugs but none of two-spotted ladybugs.
Questions Allee has include: Will the transverse ladybug continue to thrive? Does it still occupy its former range? Does the two-spotted ladybug still exist in Alaska? With climate change, will the nine-spotted ladybug migrate from southern Canada to live in Alaska?
And will the highly successful and invasive Asian multicolored ladybug move into Alaska?
To see photos of ladybugs found in Alaska, go to http://www.lostladybug.org/contributors.php.
Allee said she hoped Girl Scouts and others will continue to look for and photograph ladybugs here. Participation of “citizen scientists” is critical to the project’s success, she said.