WOOSTER, Ohio – The lady beetle, with its shiny, round red body and black spots, is one of the most recognizable in the insect world – celebrated as a beneficial predator. But native lady beetle populations are rapidly declining throughout the Midwest, and an Ohio State University entomologist wants to know where the insect stands in Ohio.
Through a citizen-science program, known as the Buckeye Lady Beetle Blitz, Mary Gardiner is collecting data about native and introduced lady beetles. With the help of 180 volunteers throughout Ohio, Gardiner hopes to identify lady beetle species, track lady beetle populations, determine whether native species are in decline and, if so, why.
"I'd like to know how abundant the exotic and native lady beetle species are in Ohio. Studies have shown that native populations are in decline throughout the Midwest and Northeast. Is it due to competition from or predation by exotic lady beetle species? Is it related to landscape changes or changes in pesticide use?" said Gardiner, an assistant professor in agricultural landscape ecology with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. "If we can get a handle on the current state of lady beetle populations, it would open the doors for conservation programs to attempt to maintain and enhance their abundance in agricultural landscapes."
Ohio is home to several exotic and native lady beetle species. Of the introduced species, the best known is the multi-colored Asian lady beetle, which is notorious for congregating in large numbers in homes during winter and can be a nuisance. Other exotic lady beetles include the variegated, seven-spotted and fourteen-spotted, all of which are common throughout Ohio.
Ohio's native lady beetle populations are more numerous, varying widely in body shape, color and number of spots. The study is focusing on 10 species. The most common are convergent (an oval-shaped, red beetle with up to 12 spots), and polished (a round, red or orange beetle absent of spots).
Two other common species include pink and parenthesis, but most of Ohio's native lady beetles are hard to spot. Some of the more rare species include thirteen-spotted, two-spotted, three-banded (a round red beetle with black bars), twice-stabbed (a round, black beetle with two central red spots), orange-spotted (an oval, black beetle with 10 orange spots) and the exceedingly rare nine-spotted.
Gardiner said that so much effort is being put into conserving lady beetles because they are beneficial insects that will feast on soft-bodied crop and garden pests, such as aphids, and other pests in the landscape. For example, the lady beetle has been credited with reducing soybean aphid populations, allowing growers to reduce pesticide applications.
The Buckeye Lady Beetle Blitz Volunteer Network program began this year with the help of an OARDC SEEDS grant. Volunteers have set out sticky traps at their church or school, within their community park, or in their home garden or in a landscaped area of their yard. The volunteers will collect lady beetles for one week in June and another week in August, and identify the number and type of lady beetle using a lady beetle identification card that has been provided to them. The samples are then sent back to Gardiner who will verify the identifications, analyze the data and make an assessment of lady beetle populations based on the results.
Gardiner will conduct the study again next year. Anyone interested in participating in the study for next year can contact Mary Gardiner for more information at (330) 263-3643 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Volunteers will be required to attend training sessions, which will begin in February 2010. These training sessions will be posted in advance on the project's Web site: http://www.ladybeetles.osu.edu.