He found the lovely little insect as it sunned itself in a patch of sunflowers at the Quail Hill Organic Farm in Amagansett on Long Island’s South Fork.
“I didn’t realize it was a nine-spotted when I found it,” Priolo said. He was on his way to do an end-of-the-day ladybug tally, so, he said, “I put it in my jar and hurried back to meet with everybody.”
The find caused much of a stir among bug experts and residents of New York state because the last recorded sighting of the ladybug, Coccinella novemnotata, the official state insect, in New York, was 29 years ago. Even the state assembly noticed its absence.
In 2006 when the State Assembly realized that the state no longer played host to any of the colorful insects, legislators tried to replace it as the state insect with a different species of ladybug, but the attempt failed due to legislative inaction.
Dr. John Losey, the Cornell University entomologist who heads up the Lost Ladybug Project said in a November 24 interview with the New York Times, that not only had he confirmed Priolo’s find as a nine-spotted ladybug, but that it was not alone.
Losey said that two weeks after Priolo’s find, he found and collected twenty additional ladybugs at the site to establish a colony that now thrives and reproduces in his lab in Ithaca.
“We found a lot of them on cosmos and zinnias,” Losey said.
The organic farm is part of the 10,000-acre Peconic Land Trust in Amagansett. For ladybugs, Losey said, “you couldn’t design a better place.”
The Lost Ladybug Project started surveying the ladybug population in 2000. As of 2006, only five nine-spotted ladybugs had been found in North America in the previous 10 years, none of them in the East. Then someone found one lone ladybug in Arlington, Virginia, but none found in the East since. A total of only 90 have been reported in North America.
Other species, like Asian ladybugs, which were imported for pest control, thrive in New York State and elsewhere. Some speculate that these Asian bugs and a species from Europe could be a reason for the decline of some native species, such as the nine-spotted ladybug. However, Losey said the loss of farmland could be another reason.
Losey wants to find out if it makes sense to reintroduce this strain of the ladybug in other areas. And he expects volunteers to be back out in the field when ladybug season starts again in the spring.
Now, he said, “We need to find out more places where it’s thriving.”
"The nine-spotted ladybug was once one of the most common ladybugs in the United States, and it was so revered in New York for its role in suppressing pests that it was named the official state insect in 1989," said Losey. "This is a major discovery made by citizen scientists. The nine-spotted ladybug is extremely rare and almost exclusively found in the west. This is the first time our state insect has been seen in New York for 29 years."
"The discovery on Long Island is generating renewed interest, and new people are joining the Lost Ladybug Project in hopes of finding rare ladybugs in their area. The good news is that everyone can contribute by sending in a picture of any ladybug they see," said Leslie Allee, entomology research associate, co-principal investigator and director of education and outreach for the Lost Ladybug Project. "We need pictures of both common and rare species. So far, citizen scientists have sent us over 12,000 pictures of ladybugs."