After 29 years, nine-spotted ladybugs found on Long Island

The nine-spotted ladybug, New York's official state insect, was feared to be extinct in this state until citizen scientists rallied to Cornell's call to help look for it. Several nine-spotted ladybugs were spotted by citizen scientists on Long Island this summer.

"The nine-spotted ladybug was once one of the most common ladybugs in the United States, and it was so revered in New York for its role in suppressing pests that it was named the official state insect in 1989," said John Losey, associate professor of entomology at Cornell and director of the Lost Ladybug Project.

But a decade or so later, the little lady seemed extinct throughout the eastern U.S. because extensive surveys by scientists failed to find any live specimens. The New York State Assembly was so sure the nine-spotted ladybug was absent that it passed a bill to replace the ladybug as state insect in 2006. That bill never went to the Senate and never became law.

Now those fears can be put to rest: The first nine-spotted ladybug -- Coccinella novemnotata -- was discovered by a volunteer July 30 at the Quail Hill Organic Farm in Amagansett on Long Island's South Fork (Suffolk County). Since then, volunteers and project staff have found 20 more nine-spotted ladybugs at Quail Hill.

"This is a major discovery made by citizen scientists," Losey said. "The nine-spotted ladybug is extremely rare and almost exclusively found in the west. This is the first time our state insect has been seen in New York for 29 years."

"The discovery on Long Island is generating renewed interest, and new people are joining the Lost Ladybug Project in hopes of finding rare ladybugs in their area. The good news is that everyone can contribute by sending in a picture of any ladybug they see," said Leslie Allee, entomology research associate, co-principal investigator and director of education and outreach for the Lost Ladybug Project. "We need pictures of both common and rare species. So far, citizen scientists have sent us over 12,000 pictures of ladybugs."

Cornell researchers launched the Lost Ladybug Project in 2000 to enlist the help of citizen scientists -- adults and children alike -- in surveying ladybug populations. In 2007, the parents of a then-Cornell entomology student discovered the first nine-spotted lady beetle on the East Coast after a 14-year absence. The project, which has been funded by the National Science Foundation since 2008, strives to promote science education through participation.

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Joe Schwartz