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Lost ladybug, believed extinct, found on LI

The C-9 nine-spotted ladybug, long believed to be

The C-9 nine-spotted ladybug, long believed to be extinct, is spotted on a sunflower. (August, 2011) Photo Credit: Natasha Beccaria, Long Island Farm Bureau

Peter Priolo has made an amazing discovery. The agricultural stewardship technician found a lost  population of nine-spotted native ladybird beetles at Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett. 

He wrote to me about it a couple of weeks ago, saying, "I have recently discovered the 'lost ladybug.'  The nine spotted ladybug was considered locally extinct until this past Saturday when I found an individual in Amagansett. It is the first individual found in the northeast in over 20 years."

When he alerted Cornell University researchers, they were, naturally, excited: "Truly fabulous... By now you already know how exciting this is!," Rebecca Smyth from Cornell's Lost Ladybug Project responded to him in an email. "In addition to the rarity of the C9 and where it was found, it's interesting that the coloration is so strong compared to ones being found out west."

For those who appreciate the magnitude of such a discovery, here's Peter's account:

After discovering the nine spotted ladybug (Coccinella novemnotata) or C-9, a native ladybird beetle thought to be extinct in the northeastern United States, researchers from Cornell University came down from Ithaca to meet with me and look for more individuals. Now, it may seem shocking that three scientists would travel six hours for a ladybug. Yes, ladybugs are the cute insect mascot among children, or may be unpopular to those who have had a stinky population huddled around their windowsills. Nonetheless they came because this particular species that I found was not seen in New York since the late 1980’s when it became the official NY State insect.

On August 16, John Losey, Leslie Allee, and Leonard Stellwag met with Rebecca Wiseman, Scott Chaskey, and me at Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett where I had found a C-9 two weeks ago. John Losey, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in Entomology, along with Leslie Allee, Research Associate, developed and direct the Lost Ladybug Project. Leonard Stellwag is a graduate student studying under John Losey and working through his dissertation on ladybug biology. Scott Chaskey runs the organic Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Quail Hill Farm.

Historic surveys show that the C-9 was one of the most common ladybugs around until the mid 1980’s. The most recent C-9 to be seen in the entire eastern U.S. was in 2006 but it was in Virginia. In the northeast the last one documented was in Maine in 1992. It was also previously seen in Maryland in 1986, Pennsylvania in 1987, and Delaware in 1988. The C-9 in particular preys upon a large range of insect pests which gives the species an economic value in agriculture. Two theories on the decline of this and other native species are the loss of agricultural land and the introduction of non-native ladybug species. 

After only 20 minutes of surveying we had found three more C-9 ladybugs! We were all very excited. After finding our sixth C-9 before lunch, it was possible to infer that there was an established population around the farm. By the end of six hours of searching organic row crops, annual flowers, grassy cover crops, brambly hedgerows, and some areas of tree nursery we had covered about 20 acres and found 12 C-9 individuals! Interestingly, all 12 were in an area of less than an acre and yards from where I discovered the first one two weeks ago.

Furthermore, they were found among a diverse range of plants. However, the crops are planted in an intercropping method. Even still, it was thought provoking to find them on flowers like zinnia and cosmos, weeds like purslane, the greens of carrots, and even on bare soil where potatoes were recently dug out of the ground.

Given the amount of individuals we had found John, Leslie, and Leonard are going to take a few back to their lab in Ithaca and try to establish a breeding population in captivity. When I asked if they were going to breed them with another C-9 population that they have in their lab from the southwest, they said not likely because that population is experiencing disease (whether it be parasitic, fungal, or bacterial) and they don’t want to put this NY population at risk. Leslie commented that this NY population had some morphological differences such as a darker red color to their elytra, or wing covers. Also, an individual that I had found with them had two spots on each elytra that were connected with a lightning-bolt shaped black streak. This was the only one with this character and I described it to John who was standing across a row of cosmos and beans. John said “ah, the Harry Potter morph” and I replied “yes… the C-9 that lived!”

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