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A de-extinction agenda comes for New York's state bug -- the ninespotted lady beetle

A ninespotted lady beetle on the petals of a flower. Image Credit: Cornell University/
A ninespotted lady beetle. Image Credit: Cornell University/

Somewhere nestled in a small farm on Long Island, a population of ninespotted lady beetles holds out as the last remaining vestige of a population that once spread across the Northeastern U.S.

Along with researchers from Cornell University, FootPrint Coalition Science Engine is working on a project to ensure that this bug doesn't disappear from the world.

It's an effort to ensure genetic and species diversity, protect natural habitats from further degradation, and an attempt to re-introduce more natural predators to replace the toxic pesticides used on many farms.

For centuries, the nine-spotted ladybug was the premier North American predator for managing aphids -- bugs that carry diseases that can infect a host of crops including: squash, cucumber, pumpkin, melon, bean, potato, lettuce, beet, chard, and bok choy.

But sometime in the past sixty years, the Department of Agriculture introduced foreign ladybugs that caused the domestic species to dwindle, potentially putting parts of the Northeastern ecosystem at risk.

At least, that's what drew Dr. Todd Ugine, a Research Assistant in Cornell University's Department of Entomology to the project. That... and a job in Dr. John Losey's laboratory as part of the Lost Ladybug Project.

Originally an insect pathologist, Ugine was always interested in developing ways that nature could be applied to crop preservation for growers -- reducing the need for pesticides.

"I always liked the idea of using what nature provides you to manage pests rather than spraying pesticides everywhere," Ugine said. "That has a lot of problems associated with it."

For aphid population control, the ninespotted ladybug was the top ... er... bug. After the introduction of non-native species, the ninespotted population declined -- potentially taking with it a food source necessary for other predators survival and a potentially integral part of the North American plant and animal ecosystem.

"When you get down to a monoculture of species you run the risk of diseases wiping out the one species you have," Ugine said.

Given that Earth's wildlife populations already declined roughly 70% over the last fifty years, the push to preserve whatever species are left shouldn't be taken lightly.

And in the holdouts from this last remaining colony, Ugine and his fellow Cornell researchers see the potential for repopulating the species.

"There is something special about this one population that allowed it to live," says Ugine. "We need to document everything we can about it."


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