Schenectady

Kids help release rare nine-spotted ladybugs in Schenectady

Gianna Bigelow, 8, of Niskayuna looks at a ladybug at the Sustainable Living Center in Central Park in Schenectady Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. Credit: Peter Barber/Staff
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Gianna Bigelow, 8, of Niskayuna looks at a ladybug at the Sustainable Living Center in Central Park in Schenectady Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. Credit: Peter Barber/Staff

Categories: News, Schenectady County

Kids, teens, and other Schenectady locals helped release rare ladybugs at Central Park Thursday during a Cornell-sponsored program that hopes to re-establish the native species around the state.

New York’s state insect is the nine-spotted ladybug (not the mosquito, as some may jest. Yet, its population has declined significantly due to habitat loss and invasive species.

“We actually get to release nine-spotted ladybugs back into our gardens in hopes that, over the years, the populations will expand and we’ll be able to have a native population of nine-spotted ladybugs again in our area,” Angie Tompkins told the small crowd at the event Thursday.

Tompkins is the Master Gardener Coordinator for the Schenectady County’s Cornell Cooperative Extension, which operates a cluster of vegetable gardens and buildings tucked inside Central Park. The organization presents programs to educate the public about topics including the environment and healthy living.

At the event, kids and parents took small plastic containers with the precious bugs around the gardens and wildflower beds, coaxing the ladybugs out onto milkweed leaves that attract the bug’s primary food source, aphids.

Debbie Bigelow brought her granddaughter, Gianna, to the event and watched as she scooped up three of the Cornell-bred Coccinella novemnotata and gingerly set them down in the garden.

Also helping were youth from Roots and Wisdom, an eight-week summer job program put on by the Cooperative Extension in which Schenectady teens tend vegetable gardens and sell their produce at the park.

“It was like nibbling a little bit, but it didn’t hurt,” said Aden Santiago, a Roots and Wisdom teen. “It just fell down my finger, I gave it to the kid, and they put him on the plant.”

The Cooperative Extension in Schenectady is one of several extensions around the state who received the ladybugs from Cornell for release.

Cornell founded the Lost Ladybug project in 2011 after a surprising discovery of a small pocket of nine-spotted ladybugs in Long Island. Through their website, lostladybug.org , anyone can submit photos of ladybugs they find to help the entomologists study which species are present in New York.

While there are many different species of the insect now in the United States, many of the ones you might find in your backyard are actually invasive species such as the Asian Lady Beetle, Harmonia axyridis.

The hope is that the 50 nine-spotted ladybugs released Thursday will burrow under leaves and brush to survive the winter, emerging next spring to hunt for food and reproduce.

“Our goal is for these to overwinter, then for us to be able to find them again,” said Tompkins. “At that point in time, we’ll know that what we did worked.”

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