If your kids are anything like mine, they LOVE to catch insects. A bug jar accompanies us on most walks and we know which spots on our usual routes are rollie-pollie jackpots. (Yes, I know rollie-pollies are not insects but bear with me.) Then again, my children just spent 45 minutes playing with their pet earthworms at the breakfast table so they may be outliers.
Nevertheless, I am willing to bet that your kids love ladybugs. How could they not? Ladybugs are so dang cute, friendly and not slimy. But North America’s native ladybug species are in decline, possibly due to competition with other ladybug species introduced from Asia, and/or the ladybug diseases carried by the introduced species. (You can read more about that in this article, “Ladybug, Ladybug, Fly Away Home” on my blog, picahudsonia.com.)
But your kids, with a little assistance from you, can help researchers at Cornell University find native ladybugs species that are becoming increasingly rare, as well as monitor changes in the species composition of ladybug populations. The program is called the Lost Ladybug Project and it’s super simple and fun. You just catch ladybugs, photograph them, and upload the photos at the project website along with a little info about where and when you found the ladybug. Plus you may get to perform a cool little “magic” trick for your kids. Normally, ladybugs crawl or fly pretty fast making good, close-up photography frustrating. But, if you put them in a container in your fridge for a short period of time, they get chilled, slow down and are amenable to a brief modeling session. Once they warm up they will take off unharmed. Here’s the link to the project website again where you can find detailed instructions: http://www.lostladybug.org/.
Through the Lost Ladybug Project, kids have already great contributions to the conservation of native ladybugs. Six-year-old Alyson Yates and her mother located a concentration of rare native lady bug species in Oregon, and a few individuals from their find were used to start breeding colonies of the native nine-spotted ladybug (Coccinella novemnotata.) And while the Lost Ladybug Project is ideal for kids because of its simplicity, they shouldn’t have all the fun. Whether you are a gardener who is interested in beneficial insects or a photographer with a new macro lens you want to play with, this project is a quick, easy way for you to make a contribution as a citizen scientist. So grab your camera, head out into your backyard and see what you can find!