Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Ladybug Invader

Wow!  I can’t believe how long it’s been since I’ve blogged!  You wouldn’t believe the amount of life crap that seems to keep welling up recently, but I DO intend to come back to blogging as soon as I have just a little more time.  Until I can get a more substantial post up, here’s a quick Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday…

Last week I had the opportunity to teach a bunch of pre-school teachers about the Lost Ladybug Project during an educator workshop offered by the early childhood people at my museum.  The woman running the workshop requested that I bring live ladybugs for my presentation, so I went to the best source of I know of at this time of year: the trailer where my office is located.  Collecting the ladybugs couldn’t have been easier!  I just set out a jar and asked my 5 coworkers to deposit any live ladybugs they found.  24 hours later, I had 52 ladybugs for the teachers to attempt to identify!  They were a hit, but it seemed wrong to release my beetles before photographing them for Lost Ladybug considering that I was trying to convince these teachers to do exactly the same thing.  So, I took them home, set up a little photography studio on my dining table, and started shooting.  Most of my ladybug photos are pretty terrible because I take them with cameras that aren’t suited to photographing small insects and I almost always have to rush through the photos anyway, but this time I was able to pull out the big guns and get some decent shots.  This was my favorite:

Asian Multicolored Ladybug

Asian Multicolored Ladybug, Harmonia axyridis

It might not be native (and it’s likely invasive), but it’s pretty darned cute anyway.

Hope you’re all doing well!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth
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Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: A Plague of Ladybugs

Last week, I headed out of my office in our lovely construction trailer at work to go use the restroom in the other building when I saw a ladybug fly into the trailer. A half second later, I saw another on the steps to the door. Then I looked up. The trailer was absolutely CRAWLING with ladybugs! Hundreds of them! I ran back inside and grabbed my camera and snapped photos of all the ladybugs close enough to the ground that I could reach them. In less than three minutes, I had 66 photos of ladybugs – and there were far more than that up near the top of the trailer where I couldn’t reach them. Every one of them was the same species, the invasive Asian multicolored ladybeetle, Harmonia axyridis. They have a rather wide range of color and spot patterns, so I decided to make a quick collage of some of the photos I took.  These are all variations within a single species!

Ladybug collage

Ladybug collage

Impressive individual variation in this species – and my collage doesn’t even include any of the black variants! Pretty cool, and an excellent example of why counting spots shouldn’t be the only character you look for when identifying ladybugs.

I probably could have gotten more photos for my collage, but I realized after that 66th photo that I never did complete the trip to the restroom that had prompted me to leave the trailer in the first place.  By the time I got back to the trailer, I couldn’t tell which ones I’d photographed and which ones I hadn’t, so I watched them crawl around a bit more and then went back inside to finish my work.  They might be invasive, but there’s something pretty cool about seeing that many ladybugs in the same place at one time.  Totally made my day!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Searching for Lost Ladybugs

Seven spot ladybug

Seven spot ladybug

I do a ton of citizen science outreach programs in my job.  I like different citizen science projects for a variety of reasons, but when I’m working with kids, you can’t beat the Lost Ladybug Project.  Lost Ladybug is great!  It appeals to little kids because all of them have interacted with ladybugs at some point in their lives and very few kids, even girls, are scared of them.  Also, when you ask the typical 5-year-old what their favorite insect is, ladybugs are right up there in the top two, just behind butterflies. Citizen science programs are often hard to do with young kids because they have only the vaguest idea of what science is, so trying to convince them that they should do science, that they can help scientists learn more about a subject, is a really hard sell.  But not with Lost Ladybug!  In my experience, kids LOVE that project.  They understand why they should do it (that they are helping scientists learn more about native and non-native ladybugs and their interactions) and no one beats a 5-year-old as a ladybug spotter.  Lost Ladybug is, I think, the very best citizen science project you can do with the really little guys.  I teach a lot of people about it.  A LOT.

Kids at Homeschool Day

Kids at the Homeschool Day bird lesson

My museum had a Homeschool Day on Monday, a day where homeschool families could bring their kids to Prairie Ridge for a variety of nature-themed lessons taught by several different educators at the museum.  I was scheduled to teach my Lost Ladybug lesson during my session for 7-9 year olds.  I had no idea what to expect!  I had done the same lesson just a few days before and we hadn’t found a single ladybug in the hour that we looked.  I had even looked at the bronze fennel in the Prairie Ridge garden, the place I can almost always find ladybugs, and we STILL didn’t find any!  It’s all well and good when you’re leading a small group on a free walk, but when you’ve got a larger group and they’ve paid to learn something from you, well…  It would suck if you didn’t find anything!  So, I scooped a couple of larvae I found into the magnifier boxes and hoped for the best.

ladybug 1I had about 10 kids in my group, and I started by telling them about the Lost Ladybug Project, what we were going to be doing, and handed out some identification guides for the ladybugs they were most likely to see.  The plan was that they would spread out in the prairie and look for ladybugs.  If they found any, they would bring the ladybug to me or my awesome volunteer and we would record some basic information on the data sheets I created for the project.  Then we would snap a photo and release the ladybug back into the field when we were done.  I had 6 magnifier boxes with me, but I had little hope we would find that many.  And things started off slowly as expected.  We walked out into the field and everyone started looking for ladybugs.  The kids looked really hard and were so excited!  Eventually one kid yelled, “I found one!” and we all rushed over to see.  It was just a ladybug pupa, so my volunteer and I talked about the ladybug life cycle a bit and showed off the larvae, then sent the kids back out to look.  It wasn’t looking good.

Asian multicolored ladybeetle

Asian multicolored ladybeetle

A few minutes later, another kid yelled, “I found one!” and came running over with hands cupped in that way that can only mean they’re holding something that’s likely to get away.  I grabbed a magnifier box and we carefully transferred our first ladybug into the box.  A few kids came over to see, so we all looked at the ID guide, counted the spots, and learned that our first find was a seven spotted ladybug.  It’s a non-native species, so the kids all said, “awwww!” in a very disappointed manner, then went back out to look for more.  Soon another kid came running over, hand carefully cupped around a ladybug.  Into a box it went, and before we’d even finished, a mom brought over another.  Soon it was all we could do to keep up with the flow of ladybugs!  Kids were running to us from all over the field.  My six boxes weren’t nearly enough, so we started doubling up, then tripling, the ladybugs in the boxes.  My volunteer and I gave up trying to record the data as the data was the same for every ladybug and there was no way to keep up with the photos.  Eventually, we took photos of two ladybugs just so the kids could see us doing it, then we gave up and decided to finish photographing ladybugs after everyone left.

Convergent ladybug

Convergent ladybug

One of the other museum people went to find more bug boxes for us, and soon my pockets were full of ladybug boxes.  My assistant was carrying even more in my lunchbag.  We counted our ladybugs and learned that we found 28 of them.  And it was great!  The kids were having a ton of fun.  Their parents were getting really into it too.  Every time a kid would bring a ladybug over, they would say, “It’s just another seven spot…” and sigh heavily before running off to find more.  I even heard a few kids whine, “ANOTHER non-native ladybug!  Are there ANY native ladybugs out here??”  That’s the sort of thing that makes your heart leap a bit when you’re doing a program, a kid that has voluntarily demonstrated that they understand what you’re doing.  I even had a few kids teach one of the other museum educators what a ladybug pupa looked like because she hadn’t ever seen one.  The kids knew just where to find one and were really happy to share their new knowledge.

Polished ladybug

Polished ladybug

After making a quick trip to the garden to look at the larvae on the fennel plants, we gathered together to discuss our findings.  Of the 28 ladybugs we found, 25 were the non-native seven spots.  One was another non-native, the Asian multicolored ladybeetle.  Considering how very many of them make their way into the trailer where the Prairie Ridge offices are during the winter, I was quite surprised that we found only one in the field.  Happily, we did find two native species, one convergent ladybug and one polished ladybug.  The kids that found those were incredibly excited because they’d found something special – they’d found native ladybugs in a sea of non-natives.

Seven spot ladybug

Seven spot ladybug

We finished up the session with a discussion of warning coloration in ladybugs and what it means, then I gave each kid a coloring sheet so they could draw a ladybug with warning coloration (real or imaginary) and had them write down what kind of animal the coloration protected them from.  We had a great mix of realistic and imaginary ladybugs, then all the kids proudly took their art, a Lost Ladybug bookmark, and an ID sheet home so they could continue finding and submitting ladybugs on their own.  I’ve told thousands of people about Lost Ladybug, but this was the first time I’d ever really felt like most or all the people in the group would go home and actually do the project.  It was a great feeling!

Days like this are the reason why I love my job and why I love teaching people about insects.  Getting a bunch of kids out in the field collecting bugs…  There’s really nothing better!  Seeing that excitement and energy directed toward something you’re passionate about is incredible.  And I’m teaching this lesson again this Saturday!  We’ll be collecting in downtown Raleigh this time, not at the field station, so it will be interesting to see if there are differences in the things we find or not.  And this time, I’ll bring a LOT more boxes, just in case.

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Edible Ladybugs

One of my coworkers, an archivist for the museum where I work, is super crafty and a wonderful cook.  She works at the field station one day a week most weeks and brings delicious food to share.  Sometimes it’s something she’s made herself and sometimes it’s something she bought, but she rarely comes empty-handed.  A few weeks ago, she came with these:

Ladybug candy

Ladybug candy

Those are Valentine’s M&M’s that she HAND DECORATED one by one with an edible food marker.  Crazy cute!  I almost hated to eat them, but then it occurred to me: if I snapped a photo of them, I could remember what they looked like AND eat them.  You can imagine what happened next…

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Friday 5: Biodiversity of a Windowsill

Yesterday I had a meeting where we were discussing citizen science ideas.  We brought up the Lost Ladybug Project to the woman we were meeting with and I assured her that even though it might not seem like she couldn’t do the project now, in January, that I had just that morning found a live ladybug outside my office.  A few minutes later, the woman spotted a ladybug crawling on the window behind me.  (If that didn’t reinforce my point, I’m not sure what would!)  I turned to the window to scoop the ladybug up and happened to notice something.  There was a huge, gorgeous, amazing (but dead) beetle in there!  After the woman left, I returned to the windowsill to retrieve the beetle.  It was spectacular!  But it wasn’t the only thing in there.  In fact, there were five different species of insects in there.  You all know what I do with 5 of any insect related things.  Friday 5!  Today, I bring you the dead insect biodiversity of that windowsill.

The Big, Beautiful Beetle That Prompted This Post

Sculptured pine borer

Sculptured pine borer

I have to say that even though it would have been more exciting to find this guy alive, this is one spectacular beetle!  This also had to be about the easiest beetle I’ve ever tried to ID online.  Found it in less than 30 seconds: the sculptured pine borer, Chalcophora virginiensis.  This beetle is about an inch long with a lot of great texture.  I’m going to make a block print of this one!  The texture is wonderful and it would make a fabulous graphic.

The Ladybugs

Multicolored Asian lady beetles

Multicolored Asian lady beetles

There are a lot of multicolored Asian ladybugs (Harmonia axyridis) in North Carolina.  As the name suggests, they come in a shocking array of different colors.  I believe all the ladybugs in this photo are the same species.  They’re pretty, but they’re not native to the US either.

Unknown Fly

Unknown fly

Unknown fly

I really don’t know my flies very well, but I thought this fly was rather elegant.  It was reasonably large, about a half-inch, and skinny.  A hover fly perhaps?  Any of the fly people out there want to help me out?  I’ve got a good, clear shot of the wing veination if you need it!

(Note: Thanks to Morgan Jackson for identifying this fly as a soldier fly in the family Stratiomyidae and the genus Ptecticus.  According to Morgan, it’s typically found around compost or decaying vegetation and leaf litter.  You’re the best Morgan!)

Headless Leafhopper

Headless leafhopper

Headless leafhopper

This was, surprisingly, the only insect that was missing its head before I removed it from the windowsill.  This one was a lovely pale green on the back, and quite a pretty little bug.  I never did find its head though.  Perhaps decapitation was the cause of death?

Stink Bug

Brown marmorated stink bug

Brown marmorated stink bug

Ah, the brown marmorated stink bug, Halyomorpha halys.  We hadn’t really gotten them in Arizona yet by the time I moved, but there sure are a lot of them here!  They come into buildings during the winter and I’ve seen several live ones over the last month or so.  This one looked like it had languished in the windowsill for some time though – dry and very crispy.  You’ll notice the head is detached in this photo.  That’s my fault – knocked it right off when I was setting it up for the photograph.  Grrr…  I hate it when I do things like that!  

Looking at that windowsill was more exciting than I’d expected it to be!  It prompted me to start looking in some of the other windowsills and the light fixture above my desk to see what I could find.  The latter was a goldmine!  Perhaps I’ll share those finds with you sometime too.  :)

Have a great weekend everyone!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

From the Literature: The Power of Citizen Science

Ladybugs mating

Ladybugs mating

Last year’s Entomological Society of America Meeting featured several talks about citizen science and social media in entomology that I was very sorry to miss.  (I missed out on meeting Bug Girl in person!  Sad, though you can see her talk here.)  I honestly don’t go to the ESA meetings very often because it tends to be agricultural and pest management heavy and when you only get to attend one to two meetings a year you really need to make them count and go to the ones most applicable to your field.  Still, I was thrilled that they were featuring these sorts of topics!  And, even though I missed the talks themselves, the latest issue of American Entomologist, ESA’s quarterly journal, features articles about several of the citizen science projects that were presented at the meeting.  As a citizen science fanatic, I have really enjoyed reading about them!  One article especially caught my attention and I wanted to discuss it today.  Let’s talk ladybugs!

I’ve mentioned the Lost Ladybug Project a few times in the past as I consider it one of the most successful online citizen science projects dealing with insects.  It pops up in the news from time to time as citizen scientists keep finding rare and unusual ladybugs and it gets a lot of publicity.  I’ve talked about what I think the benefits of online citizen science projects are before so I’m not going to rehash it all now, but I think the Lost Ladybug Project is one of those projects that is perfectly suited for online citizen science because the information they seek benefits from having a lot of participants.  And they get a lot of participants!  Over 12,000 so far in fact.  The project is harnessing the power of the public to answer questions about ladybugs and it is a successful project as a result.

According to the American Entomologist article by Lost Ladybug organizers John Losey, Leslie Allee, and Rebecca Smyth, ladybugs studies are important because the colorful, well-loved, and easily recognizable beetles are also voracious predators of native and invasive pests and sensitive to environmental conditions.  Indeed, some researchers have proposed that they be used as indicator species for environmental change.  By tracking the location of populations via the online Lost Ladybug Project, the team hoped to learn something about what shifts in ladybug populations might say about environmental change in North America.  But those conclusions aren’t the focus of their article.  Instead, they’ve focused on the level of success of the project as an online citizen science project relative to what scientists have been able to glean without help.  The results as quite interesting.

First the authors detailed how they selected a group of the 12,000+ Lost Ladybug submissions for the comparison.  They included only ladybug sightings/photos verified by the team, counted overwintering groups of ladybugs as a single sighting, and counted sightings in the same location at least 24 hours apart as separate sightings.  They also described the data used for the scientist side of things.  Data were taken from a scientific review paper for data from 1991-2006 and from published scientific papers from 2006-present.  Then they compared the number of beetles observed and the distribution of the ladybugs reported by both scientists and citizen scientists, and made some detailed observations about a few rare ladybug species of particular interest.

What they found was, I think, amazing!  Scientists typically gathered more ladybugs per sighting than citizen scientists.  Most Lost Ladybug participants report a single ladybug at a time whereas scientists often collect over 1000 beetles in one go.  Scientists clearly collect more data about specific populations of ladybugs (especially in agricultural settings) and have collected more ladybugs since 1991 than the Lost Ladybug participants have since the project went online in 2008.  This isn’t particularly surprising as scientists know where to look and are trained in sampling techniques that will allow them to collect thoroughly in an area while most Lost Ladybug sightings are serendipitous findings and come in one by one.

However, Lost Ladybug participants, and in only four years, have collected over 60 times the total number of samples relative to pro scientists!  They might not collect as many individuals per sample, but the total number of sampling events is far, far greater.  Also, the sightings are much more widespread.  While the pros tend to stick to agricultural settings, the Lost Ladybug participants are spread far and wide in a variety of habitats.  There are a lot of eyes on the ground in any given area of North America out looking for ladybugs and the citizen scientists do a better job of sampling this larger area than the scientists ever could.  Citizen scientists are also better at finding rare species than career scientists.  Additionally, citizen scientists have collected more total species and have a higher average number of species per 1000 ladybug individuals than the pros.  In essence, citizen scientists are collecting better data than the pros when it comes to widespread sampling, cataloging species distributions, and finding rare species, essential information if one wants to compare current distributions and ladybug abundance  with those in the past.

The team thinks the reason their project has been more efficient than traditional science has less to do with the total number of individual participants and more to do with how widespread their observers are and the variation in habitat types that the participants sample.  Lost Ladybug participants have sampled a much greater area of the US, Mexico, and Canada than scientists ever have, or really every could.  As a result, the researchers have learned a great deal about the current distribution of ladybugs in North America and are starting to make inferences about habitat shifts and the causes of ladybug declines in the past few decades.  Though they don’t think that citizen science projects such as the Lost Ladybug Project is appropriate in every situation, they’ve collected valuable data simply by educating the public about ladybugs and asking them to report sightings, data that would be nearly impossible to collect without the help of enthusiastic volunteers who want to participate in science.

For more information about the Lost Ladybug Project and to get involved, please see their website at http://www.lostladybug.org/index.php!

Literature Cited:

John Losey, Leslie Allee, & Rebecca Smyth (2012). The Lost Ladybug Project: Citizen Spotting Surpasses Scientist’s Surveys American Entomologist, 58 (1), 22-24

(Want to read this article?  It’s available online for free!  Hooray for open access journal articles.)

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth