A tiny bug spreads happiness

Great news, people: a hot spot of nine-spotted ladybugs has been spotted in Amagansett, New York!

Great news, people: a hot spot of nine-spotted ladybugs has been spotted in Amagansett, New York!

This uplifting story is a rich organic mixture of state pride, nature’s resilience, America’s scientific pluck, teamwork, serendipity, and bug love. In today’s hard times, we need this.

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Let’s start with the bug. This ladybug is the classic Coccinellidae beetle, with exactly nine black spots on its red back. A benevolent and delightful creature, it’s beloved by everyone from children to farmers – so beloved that it is the Official Insect of New York State. Sadly (and somewhat embarrassingly), however, this state official had vanished entirely from the state that honored it, with the last recorded sighting in New York being 29 years ago. Apparently a victim of competition from imported Asian and European ladybug species, as well as pesticides and the loss of habitat, only 90 of the native nine-spotteds have been seen in all of North America in the past decade.

But since 2000, a team of diligent Cornell University entomologists and volunteers have kept up the search through Cornell’s Lost Ladybug Project. The searchers persisted, even when New York’s legislators tried in 2006 to abandon the bug that seemingly had abandoned their state. Luckily, though, legislative inertia killed that effort to replace the state insect, and the Ladybug Project kept faith and kept looking.

Then, this summer, lo and behold, a volunteer spotted one sitting pretty as you please in a patch of sunflowers on an organic farm in Amagansett. About 20 more were subsequently found on the farm amidst rows of carrots, beans, and flowers – enough for the project to establish a reproducing colony, while also building confidence that more will be discovered.

To keep up with this bit of good bug news, go to www.lostladybug.org.

Ladybug, Ladybug, Welcome Back Home: Good News for the Official State Insect,” The New York Times, November 25, 2011.

“Battling the bastards is about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on.”

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