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Cornell Cooperative Extension

New York State's native ladybug population, coccinella novemnotata, in major decline.

By Donna Deedy

Who doesn’t love a ladybug? Everyone seems to hold at least a certain amount of affection for the insect. So, people might find the news somewhat heartbreaking: Certain species of the
polka-dotted bug are threatened and nearly extinct in the Northeastern United States.

In 1985, the ladybug coccinella novemnotata was considered a very common insect. Its range that year is shown in the gray area of the map. The Lost Ladybug Project said that sightings east of the Mississippi have become extremely rare, as indicated by the black dots on the map. Image from The Lost Ladybug Project website.

Scientists say they don’t know precisely how or why the ladybug population has declined so rapidly in recent decades or what impact it will ultimately have on the ecosystem, but they’re asking the public to assist with their efforts to both search for the bug to document the population and to help revive the species by purchasing insects to set free.

“It’s a now or never,” said Leslie Ladd Allee, an entomologist from The Lost Ladybug Project, an affiliate of Cornell University. “If citizens act as scientists, they can help.”

If you see a ladybug, people are asked to simply upload a photo of it to The Lost Ladybug Project’s website or its app, called LLP. If you don’t see any on your own land, the project organizers consider that “zero” is still important to report. Searching can be done from May to October, with June, July and August being the best time frame. 

Over the last eight years, the project has gathered more than 40,000 pictures of different species of the ladybug from every state in the U.S. and parts of Canada and Mexico. The data is providing researchers with a more complete understanding of what’s going on. 

What they’re seeing is a rise in foreign species of the insect, such as the Asian ladybug, while some native species were feared to be eliminated, according to Dan Gilrein, an entomologist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County.

“The New York state insect is the nine-spotted lady beetle — some people call these ladybugs which is fine, too — that was once common in the state, but no longer,” he said.

Researchers initially learned that the top three most common species of ladybugs, the nine-spotted, two-spotted and transverse, were no longer found on Long Island, or New York state or New England. 

Then in 2011, during a Lost Ladybug event sponsored by the Peconic Land Trust at Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett, volunteer participant Peter Priolo found a nine-spotted ladybug living happily on a sunflower. 

Kathy Kennedy, senior outreach manager for Peconic Land Trust, said that she’s been sponsoring a search as a citizen science activity every summer since then to connect people with nature and raise awareness about the decline in native species. 

A nine-spotted lady bug found in 2011 at Quail Hill Organic Farms in Amagansett, New York. The population of native ladybugs found at Quail Hill have been the source for The Lost Ladybug Project’s breeding program to repopulate coccinella novemnotata, a native ladybug species.

“The trust runs Quail Hill Farm organically, which we think helps to actively steward the home population of the nine-spotted variety of ladybugs,” Kennedy said.

Scientists with the ladybug project since 2011 have been raising offspring from the Amagansett colony in a lab in Ithaca. For the last few years, they’ve been selling the bugs to people in the Northeast. They hope to revive the species the same way wolf populations were reestablished in Yellowstone National Park. So far, 60 people have released ladybugs on Long Island through the program. There have been 16 locations on Long Island’s North Shore.

Families and youth groups can purchase ladybug restoration kits for $50 plus shipping from The Lost Ladybug Project. Allee said that the project loses money on each transaction but wants to keep the price affordable to encourage participation. 

The Lost Ladybug Project is supported by donations, sales and grants from the National Science Foundation. Allee said the project is underfunded, but the importance of the mission keeps the people involved motivated to continue.

“There are many kinds or species of lady beetles,” Gilrein said. “Some kinds of lady beetles are black with red spots, some have other colors like orange or yellow.” 

Some feed on aphids, some specialize on pests like mites, mealybugs or scale insects, he said. 

Many are considered beneficial, including the invasive Asian ladybug.

“Yes, they also consume aphids and other crop and garden pests,” Allee said. “Each species fills a different niche with somewhat different life cycle timing and diets.”

While some species of the insect are no longer common, the abundance of certain species, such as the seven-spotted lady beetle and the Asian ladybug concerns Allee. 

“We need to preserve the biodiversity of ladybug species,” she said. “The decline of the three lost ladybugs threatens the biodiversity of ladybugs and the stability of food webs.”

A seven-spotted lady bug eats aphids from the underside of an apple leaf. Photo from Laurie McBride

By Kevin Redding

Students from across Long Island donned their aprons and unleashed their inner Bobby Flay’s and Julia Child’s last Saturday for a chance to win big at the fifth annual Junior Iron Chef competition at Whole Foods in Lake Grove.

Set up like a high-stakes Food Network show, middle and high school students from various Suffolk and Nassau County school districts treated the cafeteria section of Whole Foods as their cooking arena, with each team of three to five young chefs chopping and sauteing their ingredients, divvying up their tasks in an assembly line of excitement and nerves in their attempt to beat the clock.

WEHM DJ Anthony Cafaro tastes Team Wholly Guacamole’s dish titled Avocado’s dish. Photo by Kevin Redding

As a group of judges surveyed each workstation and breakfast and lunch foods sizzled in the pans, a large crowd of supportive parents, grandparents, siblings and strangers cheered on their team of choice. All the while, DJ Anthony Cafaro, from WEHM, served as the event’s emcee, interviewing the chefs at work and taste-testing each team’s dish. “Oh my God, that’s really good,” Cafaro said as he took a bite of a middle school team’s Breakfast Sushi, a crepe packed with strawberry filling and bananas and served with chopsticks. “You know what, you can’t really tell from the first bite,” he winked as he ate some more.

Hosted by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, the one-day event, described as “part ‘Chopped,’ part ‘Iron Chef,’ and part ‘Food Network Challenge,’” gives middle and high school students the opportunity to work together to complete a recipe of their choosing in under an hour.

As per tradition, the friendly competition also encourages healthier food options by eliminating certain ingredients like meat, fish or nuts and challenging the young chefs to create new healthy vegetarian or vegan-based recipes, including United States Department of Agriculture commodity foods like beans, grains, fruits and vegetables, that use local ingredients provided by Whole Foods and could be easily implemented into school cafeteria menus.

A team from Sewanhaka High School prepares a dish during the competition. Photo by Kevin Redding

According to Cornell Cooperative Extension’s 4-H youth Development Director Vicki Fleming, who helped get the event off the ground seven years ago, “If you handed a salad to a kid they might not eat it, but if they make it, it might entice them to try it.” Fleming said she got the idea for the event from a similar junior chef competition that’s been taking place in Vermont for more than 10 years. When Gary Graybosch, prepared foods team leader at Whole Foods, took his department on an educational field trip to Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Suffolk County Farm in Yaphank, members of the organization said they expressed an interest in holding such an event but were unable to find the proper location. It didn’t take long before Graybosch volunteered the cafe section of the store.

“This is great for the community, the kids love it and the parents love it,” Graybosch said. “It teaches the kids how to work together and teaches them how to communicate because they’re not just texting each other, they actually have to speak [to each other] when they’re cooking, so it’s good.”

The 13 middle school teams that competed in the first competition round had to create a breakfast dish while the eight high school teams in the second round had to concoct a lunch dish and implement the event’s mystery ingredient — raspberries — revealed on the day of the event by Graybosch. Elementary school students set up their own tables of treats and smoothies around the store as well. Cafaro, who’s emceed the event since it started, said after the first year he told the organization he’d “do this forever.”

“It’s so great, the kids are unbelievable, they’re doing stuff I can’t even do, and the pro chefs they have as judges are even blown away by some of the skill and levels of talent they have,” he said. “When we started this, there was no real big kid competitions and now there are so many of them — it’s kind of blowing up.”

The judges take some notes as they make their rounds in the cooking arena. Photo by Kevin Redding

Among the 12 judges who graded the dishes based on flavor, health value, creativity and presentation was 14-year-old William Connor from Northport, a contestant on “Chopped Junior” this past fall, and 13-year-old Kayla Mitchell of Center Moriches who was a contestant on the third season of “MasterChef Junior.”

Seneca Middle School’s team Super Fresh Breakfast Boyz from Holbrook won first place for the middle schools for the second year in a row for their Guacamole Sunrise Stack. Students Andrew Battelli, John Durkin, Dom Strebel, Nick Strebel and Hunter Ziems and coach Mary Faller made up the team. Despite a griddle shutting off in the middle of the competition,  Durkin said he and his team were able to persevere. “We had to work together to get through that and we managed to come together and cook it and it came out good,” he said. “[The experience] was very fun overall. We met up and practiced from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. every morning before school for about a month and  half.”

Wholly Guacamole from Sagamore Middle School took second place. Students Molly Grow, Sydney Harmon, Emily Mangan, Sara Ann Mauro, Abigail Weiss, guided by coach Lindsey Shelhorse, won the judges over as runners up with their Avocado’s Nest.

Cow Harbor 4-H Club’s Original French Toasters also grabbed third place with their Banana French Toast with Fruit Syrup. Coached by Kim Gulemi, students Emily Brunkard, Jolie Fay, Ally Gulemi, Alexa Meinen and Stephanie Stegner were awarded for their blend of blueberries, strawberries, syrup and whipped cream.

The Tiger Lilies of Little Flower in Wading River took first place for the high schools for the second year in a row. Coached by  Jennifer Quinlan, students Gianna D’arcangelo, Russell Diener and Alex Mora won with their Lentil Quinoa Kale Broth Bowl. The dish featured a blend of onion, garlic, celery, carrots and tomatoes.

From H. Frank Carey High School in Franklin Square, the Red Hot Chili Peppers secured the second place spot with their Vegetarian Chili. Students Lynn Abby M. Bigord, Akira Jordan, Isabella Legovich and coach Alexandra Andrade made up the team.

Coming in third place were Babylon High School’s BHS Foodies, the ultimate competition underdogs, with their Lentil Shepherd’s Pie. Consisting of Sean Cosgro, Emilie Leibstein, Sophia Levine-Aquino, Hayley Swaine and coach Jenna Schwartz, the team showed up not realizing they had to bring their own equipment. So they approached Graybosch and asked if they could borrow “a pot, pan, chef knife, peeler, and pretty much everything,” according to Cosgro. “We felt so unprepared and so we were so surprised that we placed,” Cosgro said. “I made a lot of ‘Rocky’ references to my group the entire time, saying ‘I feel like we’re the complete underdogs, we’re sort of inexperienced, and this’ll be our ‘Rocky’ moment if we win.’”

Activists, politicians, volunteers taking closer look at declining population of Long Island’s ocean life

Horseshoe crabs have been on Earth for almost 500 million years, but their future is uncertain. Researchers like Matt Sclafani, a marine educator from the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Riverhead, said he believes that the species is in an alarming decline.

“It’s a very important issue for a lot of reasons,” Sclafani said during a horseshoe crab monitoring session at West Meadow beach in Stony Brook on Monday night.

Horseshoe crabs are a valuable species to human life, Sclafani said. Their blue blood is used for pharmaceutical purposes. Fishermen use them as one of the most effective sources of bait that exists.

Sclafani called Delaware Bay the epicenter for horseshoe crab spawning activity, with Long Island coming in as a close second as one of the most important areas to the species on the East Coast, he said.

Sclafani and his team of volunteers take to the local shores when the tides are low, usually in the middle of the night, to count and tag horseshoe crabs that come up to the shore to spawn. On Monday, Sclafani was joined by Frank Chin, the regular site coordinator for West Meadow beach, along with Grace Scalzo, a volunteer, and Karen Papa and her sons — 12-year-old Zachary and 8-year-old Jonah.

North Shore activists take to the waters to learn more about the area horseshoe crabs. Photo by Alex Petroski
North Shore activists take to the waters to learn more about the area horseshoe crabs. Photo by Alex Petroski

“We get a lot of volunteers for this program,” Sclafani said. “That’s the part I think is really great, too. We get people involved in their backyards. There’s not a lot of marine life that you can get involved with and handle this directly — that comes right out onto the beach for you without a net or fishing pole.”

In all, the team tagged 55 horseshoe crabs over the course of the night, though that is nothing compared to the night on the South Shore when Sclafani said he and a team of about 35 volunteers tagged about 800 crabs. The process requires measurement, drilling a small hole into the shell, and then applying a round tag that has tracking information on it which is recorded.

“I think the entire population up and down the East Coast is in trouble,” Larry Swanson, associate dean of the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, said of the horseshoe crab population in an interview last week. “It’s in trouble for a variety of reasons including people overfishing the population, but also certain birds, including the red knot, are particularly prone to using them as a food source.”

Sclafani said the consequences could be dire, if the crabs are not saved.

“Their eggs are really important to the ecosystem,” Sclafani said. “A lot of animals feed on them, including migratory shore birds.”

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) divulged plans to urge the Department of Environmental Conservation to expand restrictions on harvesting horseshoe crabs in May, to the chagrin of fishermen. Those plans have since been tabled.

“I’m just a man, but I’m a vital part of the food chain and I think I’m at the top,” Ron Bellucci Jr. of Sound Beach said in an interview last month.

Horseshoe crab harvesting is a vital part of his income, he said. Local fishermen have also questioned the validity of claims about the declining population.

North Shore activists take to the waters to learn more about the area horseshoe crabs. Photo by Alex Petroski
North Shore activists take to the waters to learn more about the area horseshoe crabs. Photo by Alex Petroski

The idea that the species may not be declining is not an encouraging sign to Malcolm Bowman, professor of physical oceanography and distinguished service professor at SoMAS, Stony Brook. He is also the president of Stony Brook Environmental Conservancy and the Friends of Flax Pond, two environmental advocacy groups.

“We know in nature that things go up and down, and up and down, but you have to look at long-term trends; 10 years, 20 years,” Bowman said in an interview last week. “I’ve worked with fishermen a lot. They have to make a living, I understand that, but it’s important to keep communications between the scientists and say the fishermen with mutual respect, and that way we can learn a lot from them. We scientists are trained to have a long-term view. It’s not just this season, this summer, this breeding season. It’s a long-term view. I think that’s so important.”

More restricted areas, which Romaine is pushing for, could simply result in overharvesting in areas without restrictions, both Bowman and Sclafani said.

There has also been some experimentation with extracting the blue blood while the animal is still alive, then rereleasing them into the water. This process is called biomedical harvesting.

“That’s becoming a more and more controversial topic,” Sclafani said. “The biomedical companies have maintained that it’s a low mortality rate — about 10 percent … they might even be as high as 40 or 50 percent.”

He also mentioned that there are concerns about the horseshoe crabs’ spawning activity after this process is completed.

Bowman stopped short of saying that the extinction of the horseshoe crab would have a drastic impact on human life, but it’s not a good sign.

“I was reading some very important news that’s coming out about the extinction of species on the planet,” Bowman said. “Species are going extinct at a huge rate. The cumulative effect is going to have a very bad effect on human civilization, far greater than we can imagine. We only see a little piece of it.”

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