Citizen Science: Luck Be A Ladybug
“Citizen Science” refers to the method of relying on everyday people to collect or analyze data as part of a larger scientific project. With the advent of Internet technology, this method of research– akin to crowd-sourcing– has become more popular than ever before, especially for environmental scientists, whose research often encompasses large areas of land that would otherwise not be feasible to visit. For Lil’ Sprouts, Citizen Science projects offer the chance for accessible, hands-on environmental education in one’s own backyard. Some of the projects we feature are adventurous nature treks while others are more leisurely undertakings– but all encourage exploring nature in one capacity or another.
Below, read our profile of “Spot A Ladybug”, which aims to answer the question of why ladybugs get their spots. Read more of GC’s Citizen Science profiles here.
Wondering why ladybugs have spots is a question that crosses just about everyone’s mind at one point or another. The explanation passed around the schoolyard is that each spot correlates to a year lived, as the black polka dots on the red wings are earned like battle scars or scout badges. But ladybugs typically only live to be about one year old, and they can have as many as twenty-five spots.
Lindsay Havens, the researcher behind Spot A Ladybug, hopes to finally answer this question that has long-troubled curious kids. Her interest in phenotypes (specifically, why members of the same species look different, like how people have blue or brown eyes) eventually led her to wonder why some ladybugs have many spots and others have few or none. Her research, which she began in 2013, looks specifically at the harlequin ladybug, a species that originated in Asia but which now occupies most of the United States. Unlike other varieties of ladybug, the harlequin ladybug comes in different colors (red, yellow, orange, and black), and can be identified by the M shape on its head.
Havens’ appeal to the public is simple: she wants citizens to record how many spots they see on a harlequin ladybug’s back (preferably with a photo). The information can be submitted through a form on her website, and she asks that participants provide a few relevant details, like where the ladybug was found and at what time of day. The project requires no serious commitment, and can be completed throughout the year, whenever Lil’ Sprouts happen to cross paths with one of the lucky bugs. Ladybugs are an exciting, fun part of the garden, and Spot A Ladybug helps channel this excitement into helping kids develop early analytic skills out in the field, which in turn encourages kids to notice the details in the vast world around them.
- Is a ladybug actually a bug?
A ladybug isn’t actually a bug– it’s a beetle! There are a number of differences between bugs and beetles. Beetles eat many different things including insects (ladybugs eat aphids, for example) while bugs have a mostly liquid diet. Bugs and beetles also differ in the structure of their wings, and in their mouthparts (beetles can chew, while bugs pierce their food, in keeping with their respective diets).