War of the Larvae: Ladybug Grub Eats Flower Fly Maggot!

May 24, 2016


Immature ladybug eating flower fly larva, photo by Brian Brown.

Urban Nature Research Center (UNRC) co-director Dr. Brian Brown recently wandered out of his home into his Monrovia backyard and caught sight of something unexpected on the outside of his insect trap: an immature ladybug (also known as a larva or grub) consuming the larva of a flower fly (also known as a maggot).  The large, tent-like Malaise trap—used in the UNRC's BioSCAN project to collect and study flying insects from multiple sites across Los Angeles—has a sloped, white mesh cover that serves as a perfect backdrop to capture an image of a bristly black and orange ladybug larva mid-meal.

Brian’s Malaise trap sits at the foot of an old, towering Valencia orange tree, which thrives and produces massive amounts of citrus despite hosting armies of what most of us consider garden pest enemies.

“The tree is festooned with scale insects, aphids and whitefly,” Brian says.

The tree is never sprayed with any kind of pesticide or treatment, and for that reason beneficial insects, with their smorgasbord of dinner options, are a year-round presence in Brian's garden. The larvae of both ladybugs and flower flies are voracious predators, eating  hundreds of soft-bodied, sap-sucking pests and are prized inhabitants of his garden.

“Ladybugs are thought of as cute, storybook creatures. They're actually lions, ferocious predators as larvae and adults.”

What struck him about the vision of a ladybug larva chowing down on a fellow beneficial bug? It's not often, he says, you see one beneficial insect consuming another. “It challenges how we think about what it means to be beneficial.”

 


(Posted by: Karen Klabin)


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Ladybug Love Fest on Top of the World

February 16, 2016

Valentine’s Day came early this year for these amorous Convergent ladybugs. Photo credit: Lila Higgins.

Last weekend on a hike to Sandstone Peak, the highest point in the Santa Monica mountains, fellow bug enthusiast Lila Higgins came across a brazen beetle Bacchanalia in full midday swing. Hundreds of ladybugs had gathered on a rotting log where they had previously been “chilling out” for several months. Hippodamia convergens, known as the Convergent ladybug, exhibits this adaptive behavior; these ladybugs will migrate in the fall to higher elevations to overwinter in large aggregations consisting of thousands of individuals. Just as the unseasonably sunny weather inspired Lila to go for a hike, the ladybugs awoke from their rest feeling frisky and ready for action.  Gentlemen and lady ladybugs paired off for a little afternoon delight, after which they prepared to migrate back down the mountain to lay eggs and find food. Both the adults and immature larvae are predators, feeding on soft-bodied insects such as aphids and mealybugs.

 

If you have ever purchased ladybugs from a store to use as a natural form a pest control, then you have first hand experience with the Convergent ladybug. California’s Sierra Nevada mountains boasts impressively large aggregations of overwintering Convergent ladybugs, where they are collected by the thousands for commercial use. Many entomologists do not endorse the practice of releasing these store bought ladybugs into your yard for natural pest management because of its questionable efficacy. As mentioned above, Convergent ladybugs migrate as soon as they warm up, so the majority of the chilled ladybugs released in your yard will instinctively fly away. This is not to say that ladybugs are not important as natural predators- they most certainly are! We have several hundred species of ladybugs in California that are already out on the prowl, looking for juicy bugs to eat. As long as we keep our yards a bug friendly zone, our local insect predators will come ahuntin’!

 

Just a sample of the L.A. ladybug diversity that we have recorded as part of the BioSCAN project. Photo credit: Kelsey Bailey.

 

Ladybugs, along with butterflies and praying mantids, are one of the most beloved insects groups.  I have read dozens of poems celebrating the life of the ladybug, but my favorite of all are these wonderful limericks written by an entomologist of many talents, Emily Hartop. Please enjoy!

 

The Ladybug

 

A lady, a bug, dressed in spots

A red coat with the blackest of dots

So shiny and round

She makes not a sound

As dainty, along stem, she trots

But surprise is lurking within

For the dainty she is a him!

And she isn’t so lovely

The aphids are unlucky

To make an encounter so grim

 

For this ‘lady’ she really is gruesome

Her and her larvae a terrible twosome

Both predaceous and fierce

Their prey they do pierce

Where did the “lady” name come from?

 

So I warn the ladybug lover

Do not judge a book by its cover

We may love this bug

But he’s just a thug

A hoodlum undercover!


(Posted by: Lisa Gonzalez)


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Rare Nine-spotted Ladybug Found in L.A.!

June 17, 2015

During Bug Fair, I found a ladybug in the Museum’s Nature Gardens, that didn’t look familiar. It didn’t have any spots, but it somehow looked different than all the other no-spotted ladybugs I’d seen before. I took its photo, posted it to our Nature Gardens Survey on iNaturalist, and then totally forgot about it.

Nine-spotted ladybug, photo taken by Harsi Parker

It wasn’t until a few weeks later, while I was preparing for a behind-the-scenes tour in entomology that something made me come back to that photograph. I was planning to talk about a big discovery made by a citizen scientist back in 2009—the time Harsi Parker discovered a rare nine-spotted ladybug in L.A.

Harsi Parker standing in Webb Canyon circa 2009​

Today Harsi lives in Washington State, but back in 2009, Harsi lived in Claremont, right on the edge of L.A. and San Bernardino counties. On a summer day in 2009, Harsi went for a walk in Claremont’s Webb Canyon. As she passed a stand of mustard plants, she noticed an insect out of the corner of her eye. She looked closer and realized it was a ladybug—one she had never seen before. Not having her camera on her, and worrying she’d never find the ladybug again if she ran home to get it, Harsi picked the sprig of invasive mustard (she wouldn’t have done this if it was a native flower). She slowly and carefully walked the sprig with its precious cargo all the way back to her house. Once she was home Harsi immediately took photos of the ladybug, and began searching through her field guides to try and identify it. When she turned to the page with the nine-spotted ladybug, Coccinella novemnotata, Harsi got really excited—these are very rare ladybugs.

Nine-spotted ladybugs are native to North America, but their population numbers declined tremendously in the 1970s and 80s. Numbers declined so low that many scientists thought they were locally extinct in many parts of the U.S.

Knowing that nine-spotted ladybugs are rare, Harsi realized she had to share her find with the scientific community. She posted her photo to Cornell’s Lost Ladybug Project and promptly got confirmation that her ladybug was indeed a rare nine-spotted specimen. This was only the second time this lost ladybug had been reported to the project for the entire state of California!

While doing my research about Harsi’s story, I got a chance to really study her nine-spotted ladybug photographs. As I looked at them closely I realized they reminded me of the ladybug I had found in the Nature Gardens during Bug Fair.

My photo on the left; Harsi Parker's photo on the right

I put our photos side by side, and noticed that they both had a black line running down their back, they both had the same black-and-white pattern on the pronotum (the shield-like covering above a ladybug’s head), and they had the same white line between their eyes. Just like Harsi, I got really excited, “Did I just discover a ‘lost ladybug’ here in the Nature Gardens?”

Turns out my ladybug was a lost ladybug too! Within 24 hours, staff from Cornell responded to my picture and told me I had found the fourth nine-spotted ladybug in California. I couldn’t believe it! The odds of me finding a nine-spotted ladybug are small, but finding one while researching another nine-spotted finding was just too incredible.

I emailed Harsi to let her know what was taking place and she was thrilled. I told Harsi that our photos are forever linked, because if I hadn’t been researching her story then I wouldn’t have realized what I had seen. This goes to show that the power of citizen science is not only helping scientists collect valuable data points, but it is also connecting people through science and helping them to make big discoveries about the world we live in.

Photos from the Lost Ladybug tour during the First Fridays program on June  5.

Feeling inspired? We encourage all of you to look for ladybugs this summer. Take their photos and send them to us at nature@nhm.org. You may not find a nine-spotted ladybug, but you will be contributing to our understanding of nature in L.A.

Written by Richard Smart


(Posted by: Richard Smart)

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The Twelve Days of Christmas

December 23, 2011

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas the North Campus gave to me...

Twelve skippers skipping

 



Eleven pill bugs pillaging

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas the North Campus gave to me...

Twelve skippers skipping

 

 



Eleven pill bugs pillaging

 

 

 

 



Ten fritillaries a-feeding

 

 

 

 



 Nine gulls a-diving (dumpster diving that is)

 

 

 

 



Eight mantids a-milking

 

 

 

 



Seven caterpillars a-crawling

 

 

 

 

 



Six ladybugs a-laying

 

 



Five phorid (fly) wings

 

 

 

 



Four calling crows

 

 

 

 



Three French hummingbirds

 

 

 

 



Two turtle fox squirrels

 

 

 

 



 And an oak gall in an oak tree!

 

 

 

 

 



 

Wishing you a happy holiday season!

 



 


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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Dinosaurs Open Part of North Campus!

July 14, 2011

Unless you're living in a cave somewhere (no offense to the troglobites out there), you've heard that we're opening a new Dinosaur Hall next week. In anticipation of this meteoric occasion all Museum staff were invited to preview the hall, which began with a jaunt through the soon to be open sections of the North Campus (car park, transition garden, entrance plaza, and footbridge). Even though these areas of the North Campus were only recently planted, we're already noticing wildlife visiting, including a ladybug that landed on me during the preview and another cat caught on camera trap!

Lost Ladybugs?

The ladybug that landed on me during the staff preview was a Multicolored Asian Ladybug, Harmonia axyridis. It's an introduced species from Japan, which has become very common in our area. This is the first ladybug of its kind that I've found in the North Campus, which brings the total for North Campus to seven species. I wonder what ladybug species number eight will be!

 



Multicolored Asian Ladybug, Harmonia axyridis

Curious Cats

After finding the ladybug on Thursday, Sam and I went out to the North Campus to set up our trusty camera trap. We weren't expecting to find much of anything over the weekend, but we wanted to give it a try. Sam scaled the living wall and installed the trap around the base of a palo verde tree.

 



Here's some footage of what we found!

 

 

Its another domestic cat, Felis catus. Incidentally, we can be sure that this cat is a different individual than the one caught on camera three weeks ago. The first cat had a lot more white markings. This is cat number two for Expo Park! As for what the bright, white, floating thing is, we're not sure. Maybe a leaf, or a caterpillar even?


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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