Cornell University is breeding nine-spotted ladybugs. The N.Y. insect had not been seen for 30 years in the state. There are four spots on each wing cover and the ninth is at the split at the front where the two meet.
Cornell University is breeding nine-spotted ladybugs. The N.Y. insect had not been seen for 30 years in the state. There are four spots on each wing cover and the ninth is at the split at the front where the two meet.

Once extremely common in New York, the nine-spotted became rare over the last 40 years and was even thought to be extinct, said Leslie Allee, a Cornell entomologist.

Allee and another Cornell entomologist, John Losey, formed the Lost Ladybug Project in 2000 to investigate why the nine-spotted and two other ladybug species that were once common in North America had become so rare so fast.

Ladybugs may have an adorable name and look pretty cute, but they also have an important job to do: They eat other insects.

"If we didn't have ladybugs we would need to use much higher levels of pesticides," Allee said. "So not only are they saving us money and saving crops, but they are also contributing to human health by reducing the level of pesticides that are needed."

Combining research with citizen science, the project uses photos and actual ladybugs submitted by people across the country to map where certain ladybug species are found, study differences between them and breed them. So far, 13,370 photos of ladybugs have been contributed by people around the country and Canada.

But no contribution was more significant than last July when project volunteer Peter Priolo organized a group search in Amagansett on Long Island, N.Y. Priolo spotted a nine-spot in a patch of sunflowers on an organic farm. It was the first one found in New York in 30 years and just the second found on the East Coast in the last 40 years, Allee said.

"This completely shifted our research data because it wasn't just one, it was a nice-sized population," Allee said.

Members of the lab in Ithaca headed to Amagansett to collect a bunch of the ladybugs. Now, there are about 100 nine-spotted ladybugs living in plastic containers in the lab. With a steady diet of aphids, housed in a climate-controlled room connected to the lab, the population should grow by 25 percent every three to four weeks. Along with Allee and Losey, undergraduate and graduate students work in the lab feeding the ladybugs, collecting data and cleaning the plastic homes.

So far, research from the project has yielded three different theories on the disappearance of the nine-spotted ladybugs: competition with invasive species of ladybugs; hybridization; and changes to the environment, such as climate change.

On hybridization, for example, the lab is looking at if it is possible that the nine-spotted could have interbred with the seven-spotted and essentially bred itself out of existence.

The conditions in the lab are better than in nature, Allee said, as the temperature is regulated, food is given regularly and there are no predators around. Though the project is about five to 10 years away from reintroducing the bug back into the environment, that remains a possibility, Allee said.

In addition to the research, a significant part of the Lost Ladybug Project is about outreach to community members, said Rebecca Smyth, who corresponds with the people who submit photos. Smyth can only remember one day last year when she did not receive a photograph.

"I saw there were no submissions and I thought, 'can this be true?'" she said. "But then I thought, 'Well it is Christmas, so that is OK."

ORIGINAL ARTICLE

From the Huffington Post

Bees may seem like uninvited guests at your picnic -- but before you shoo them away from the fruit salad, think twice, as they play a critical role in making your picnic possible.

Some of the most healthful, picnic favorites -- from blueberries, strawberries, cantaloupe, watermelon, cucumber, avocados, to almonds -- would not make it to the table without the essential work by insects and bees.

Most crops depend on pollinating insects to produce seeds or fruits. In fact, about three-quarters of global food crops require insect pollination to thrive; and one-third of our calories and the majority of critical micronutrients, such as vitamins A, C and E, come from animal-pollinated food crops.

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To provide pollination services to such crops, farmers often rely on domesticated honey bees. But with the decline of honey bee colonies due to diseases and pesticides, this single-management strategy is increasingly risky. Moreover, a recent study in the journal Science, led by Lucas A. Garibaldi (at the National University of Rio Negro in Argentina) involving myself and 48 other scientists, indicates that reliance on a single domesticated species is not only risky, but also inefficient.

Based on a synthesis of 600 fields at 41 crop systems, we found that wild bees and insects were more effective at pollinating than managed honey bees, even doubling the proportion of flowers that develop into mature fruits or seeds. In fact, the proportion of flowers that matured to fruit improved in every field visited by wild insects, compared with only 14 percent of fields visited by honeybees. This means that rented honey bees supplement, rather than replace critical, yet free pollination services provided by wild bees to crops.

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This is a big deal. As the world population is estimated to increase to nine billion by 2050, with a corresponding need to double the global food supply, we must find ways to make more food from the same amount of land. And our research suggests that to achieve such "sustainable intensification" we should secure healthy populations of wild pollinators across agricultural landscapes worldwide. But given dramatic declines in many bee species globally, this presents a daunting yet timely challenge.

A major driver behind the decline of wild pollinators is the loss and degradation of natural habitats. Simultaneously, farm management practices have been implicated. To better understand these different factors, Claire Kremen (at University of California, Berkeley), Eric Lonsdorf (previously at the Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago), and I worked with an international team of bee biologists and synthesized data on wild bee communities in agro-ecosystems from around the globe (including 39 studies on 23 crops in 14 countries and 6 continents).

We found that wild bee assemblages were most diverse and abundant on fields managed organically and that grew a variety of crops or had natural vegetation like hedgerows, flower margins, and live fences (as recently published in Ecology Letters).

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Our results suggest that switching from conventional to organic farming could lead to an average increase in wild bee abundance and richness by 74 percent and 50 percent respectively, and enhancing field diversity could lead to an average 76 percent increase in bee abundance. Farmers can therefore maximize pollination services to their crops by reducing their usage of bee-toxic pesticides and herbicides, planting small fields of different flowering crops, increasing the use of mass-flowering crops in rotations and breaking up crop monocultures with hedgerows and other natural vegetation.

In addition to local-scale field effects, we modeled landscape-level effects using a crop pollination model (available through the Natural Capital Project), and found that bees benefited when farms were surrounded by natural habitats, especially when in large monocultures; and that each 10 percent increase in the amount of high-quality bee habitats in a landscape leads to an average 37 percent increase in bee abundance and richness.

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Orchards and fields surrounded by natural or semi-natural habitats (left) versus those that are more isolated (right). Wild bees are more abundant and diverse on fields closest to natural habitats. Almond photos by Alex Klein and Claire Brittain; Red clover photos by Maj Rundlöf; Strawberry photos by Catrin Westphal.

This is good news. This means we have multiple options to safeguard pollinators and their services to crops. We can protect and enhance natural areas around farms as well as improve on-farm management to benefit both our natural heritage and our agricultural harvests.

So if bees at a picnic may not sound like fun, believe me, you couldn't have one without them.

The bees thought it would be wise to offer helpful hints for you about how to avoid pesticides and chemical in your life. Here are some tricks that both improve your quality of life by reducing annoying bugs and save our environment from pesticides. If you have a question or a solution, please email us. We love both. Here are some that we have received and the answers we found.

Question: My cat is using my garden for a potty. How can I discourage her from this?
Answer: Sprinkle peppermint around the garden. Generally this keeps the cats away.
Question: Weeds are invading my yard. Any organic suggestions?
Answer: This may sound weird but pull out your vinegar and douse those weeds. It will be quite a discouragement for their continued presence.
Question: I have moths flying around that seem to have come from my organic wheat flour that I had stored in a bag in a shelf. Now they are everywhere. Help! What can I do?
Answer: Get fresh rosemary, basil and rosemary and crush it. Then spread it around in your cupboards. The moths will leave. Yes, it is a bit messy but it smells so refreshing.
Question: This isn’t a pesticide problem but maybe you have a suggestion about what to do when you get sunburned.
Answer: An old farm remedy is to swab yourself with apple cider vinegar, not white vinegar. The pain usually subsides quickly and then soak in an apple cider vinegar bath. Depending on how badly you are burned continue to wipe apple cider vinegar on your skin. Do it 3 or 4 times minimum over a period of several hours if you are really red. Although you should be able to sleep soundly, if you awaken in the night because you are hot, wipe your skin with the vinegar. By morning the red/pink skin should be diminished considerably.

This list was obtained from both the USDA and my personal knowledge of organic farming.

Alfalfa
Almonds
Apples
Avocado
Blueberries
Canola
Cranberries
Cucumbers
Grapefruit
Pear
Plums
Pumpkins
Sunflowers
Tomatoes
Squash
Watermelon

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Because the managed honey bees (commercial European honey bees) are declining in numbers, it is very beneficial to create a bee garden for both native bees and feral (wild) honey bees. There are nearly 5,000 species of bees in the U.S and most of them do not swarm. They are gentle little creatures who lead solitary lives and nest underground or in dead trees or in pithy stems. The greatest need of these benevolent little beings is undisturbed nesting sites free from pesticides.

Bees also need sources of water which can be provided from a dripping faucet, pond, stream, fountain or birdbath. Some, like the blue orchard bee, require mud as a building material for their nests. Thus feral or native bees need nectar, pollen, water, nesting materials and open ground. So go ahead and tear up a bit of your lawn and plant wild flowers along the fence line, leaving an area that you do not tidy up so the ground dwelling bees have safe refuge.

Use a wide variety of native annual and perennial wildflowers which naturally grow in your region, such as Cosmos, black-eyed Susans, Echinacea and Lavender and herbs like rosemary, marjoram and mint. Honey bees love clover and it is extremely nutritious for them. Bumblebees thrive on blueberry blossoms. Select the best bee-rewarding plants and you will also attract butterflies and hummingbirds to your flower and vegetable gardens or backyard fruit orchard.