Meet the beetles
OSU enlisting citizen-scientists statewide to count ladybugs
Monday, June 22, 2009 3:11 AM
By Steven Bushong
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Citizen-scientists across Ohio are catching ladybugs to help a researcher chart the insect’s numbers and find out whether some native species are being replaced by aliens.
Little is known about ladybug populations in Ohio, which is why Ohio State University entomologist Mary Gardiner distributed 180 collection kits to residents, including Gov. Ted Strickland’s wife, Frances.
Studies in other parts of the country have found a decrease in some native ladybug species, including the convergent lady beetle, Ohio’s official state insect.
Gardiner said she wants to know more about four invasive species (the multicolored Asian is the one that gets into houses in the fall) and 10 natives, including the pink, polished and twice-stabbed lady beetles.
“If you don’t have any data, which is where we currently are, you can’t really say whether they’re declining or not,” Gardiner said.
The kits include an identification guide and a collection card — a yellow piece of cardboard coated with a sticky slime. They are to be placed in food or flower gardens for seven days during one of four collection periods in June and August.
After five days, Jillian Hunt, 12, and her brother, 14-year-old Andy, had found one beetle (it looks like an orange-spotted beetle) in their Pickerington backyard.
Bethany Hunt, 20, an undergraduate research assistant in Gardiner’s lab in Wooster, had instilled a curiosity about insects in her siblings, although Jillian doesn’t care for grasshoppers and cicadas.
The brother and sister put their sticky card between two raised garden beds next to their backyard patio, closest to the pole beans and green onions.
Andy said he thinks they’ve seen only one ladybug because the bugs’ favorite food — aphids — isn’t out yet.
“Probably, unfortunately, it was just flying by and got stuck,” he said.
Researchers expect each sticky trap to collect as many as five ladybugs and a host of other insects in each collection period.
Ladybugs eat pests in gardens and on farms, helping to reduce the need for pesticides, which have financial and environmental costs, Gardiner said. But they can be harmful to each other. The multicolored Asian is thought to be driving out native species.
Once the collection week has ended, participants are asked to identify the species of ladybugs they have caught and send their paperwork and sticky cards to the OSU Department of Entomology, where data will be recorded and the bugs’ DNA will be tested.
Pam Bennett, a master gardener and volunteer coordinator with OSU Extension, placed a trap in the center of her garden in Springfield. As of Wednesday evening, she had caught no ladybugs.
And as of Thursday night, Mrs. Strickland’s sticky trap, which had attracted several cucumber beetles, also was ladybugless.