Native Plants 101: Insect protectors

Lady bugs are everyone’s friends; they are so iconic.

But guess what? There are a lot of questions surrounding these seemingly innocuous and friendly insects. Did you know that:

  • Over the past twenty years several native ladybugs that were once very common have become extremely rare.

  • During this same time ladybugs from other places have greatly increased both their numbers and range.

  • This is happening very quickly and we don’t know how, or why, or what impact it will have on ladybug diversity or the role that ladybugs play in keeping plant-feeding insect populations low.

—Lost Ladybug Project

Perhaps imported, non-native species are displacing the native ones. Or, maybe something has happened in the native ladybugs’ relationship with their prey, or environment that is affecting their ability to compete or survive. Human development and agriculture have altered many native ecosystems and caused formerly abundant species to decline. Because ecosystems are, well, systems the animals, plants, and other organisms that constitute an ecosystem are by definition interdependent.

What can you do? The Lost Ladybug Project provides a fun way to DO SOMETHING! Visit their website http://www.lostladybug.org/index.php to learn how to find, identify, photograph, and submit a report on the ladybugs you find. This will help scientists figure out which ones are where, and how many there are. That will make it possible to study what is going on.

It’s FUN! It’s EASY! Kids love it! It’s like a treasure hunt. See if you can find ladybugs (native or not). Send in your info and your report will go into the database and get put on a wonderful interactive map. Even if you don’t find any native ladybugs, your information is very important. This is Citizen Science (or crowdsourcing) to help scientists figure out what is going on.

The good news is that once people start really looking for creatures, often we find out there are a lot more than we thought.

And one more word about natives: native plants support animals of all sorts, plus microorganisms that have evolved with them. Native insects need native plants. Native birds and other animals need native insects for food. So do your ecosystem a favor and plant some native plants. Maybe your native ladybug count will go up!

Check out this Dragonfly Woman blog post for a wonderful description of Ladybug Project activities for kids in action.

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