The Birds and the Bees of Ladybug STDs

August 9, 2016


Mulitcolored Asian ladybug, Harmonia axyridis, collected from the roof of Angel City Brewery in Downtown LA. Ladybug date night? Photo credit: Kelsey Bailey

 

A Curious Growth on a Ladybug

Sometimes I feel like I have seen it all when it comes to the bizarre happenings of the bug world.  Like some sort of insect inception (insection?), there are insects that live on insects, insects that live inside other insects as parasites, and even parasites on the parasites of those insects! I see evidence of these strange phenonmena regularly as I sort samples of insects from Los Angeles, but recently I came across a ladybug that had something I had never seen before. On top of the hardened wing covers, which entomologists call elytra, were oblong projections that covered the beetle like a tacky orange shag rug. Were they eggs of a ladybug parasite? Or some sort of mite? I immediately asked our talented photographer, Kelsey Bailey, to take photos of this specimen so that I could share the image in hopes of unraveling the enigma.

A Sexually Transmitted Fungus

The astounding answer came from a colleague at the UC Riverside Entomology Research Museum, Dr. Doug Yanega. The mystery fuzz was identified as the parasitic Laboulbeniales fungus, which incredibly feeds off of internal vital fluids. This fungus is unlike any other; it is only found living on the exoskeletons of hard-bodied creatures like beetles and their kin, and must be spread by direct body-to-body contact. Fortunately for the fungus, some insects like to take it slow when it comes to mating, allowing for that direct contact needed for the fungus to spread.  Certain ladybug species stay locked in copulation for a minimum of 30 minutes and as a group are known to have many different partners throughout their adult lifetime. These behaviors can benefit ladybugs in that they assist in successful sperm transfer and maximize genetic diversity, but they also give parasites ample time to hop ship from one ladybug lover to the other.

Seven spotted ladybugs, Coccinella septempunctata, mating via GIPHY

It Feeds on Blood!

The realization that the Laboulbeniales fungus, despite its flowery name, is essentially an insect STD, blew wide open my notion of what makes a fungus a fungus. While most fungi are important ecologically as decomposers and nutrient recyclers, Laboulbeniales are one of the most unusual, intriguing, and unfortunately poorly studied fungi. They do not form fruiting bodies, what most people know of as mushrooms, but consist only of a simple finger-like structure that attaches and bores into the exoskeleton. The insects’ version of blood, called hemolymph, contains nutrients that the fungus happily sucks up. This is the living version of a pointed straw that you pierce into a child’s juice box, but instead of fruit punch, in this case it’s beetle blood!

Macrophotographs of the Laboulbeniales fungus. 

A Non-lethal Dose

Fear not for the life of the ladybug who has been shagged by the Laboulbeniales fungus! Moderate infections do not appear to be lethal to the infected individual. A study done on yet another ladybug STD, a sexually transmitted mite, showed that the ladybug’s life span was too short to succumb to the pressure of the parasite. In other words, they die of old age before the infections become serious. This ensures that future generations of ladybugs will continue to congregate and live out their free-love lifestyle in peace and harmony.

 


(Posted by: Lisa Gonzalez)


Related

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)

3 Comments


Related

Ladybugs Make Me Smile

January 18, 2013

A few weeks ago, I was having a terrible day at work. The next day, my friend and colleague, Kristina Lockaby,  brought me a card that said, "Ladybugs make me smile." This is so true.

A recent ladybug that made me smile REALLY big, was one that our Head Gardener, Richard Hayden, found. He was out in the urban wilderness and stopped a moment to take a closer look at one of the willow shrubs. He noticed lots of aphids and a few ladybugs too. One in particular stood out to him. It was all black with two red spots on it, something he had never seen before on a ladybug.

He put the little beetle in a snap top jar and brought it up to our shared office. "Lila, I have a present for you!" he exclaimed as he came in. I immediately stopped staring blankly at my computer screen and turned to see what booty he was bringing in from the garden. He silently handed me the jar, I took a look, and I smiled.

Richard had collected a twice-stabbed ladybug. These ladybugs are so named for their color and pattern. Unlike most ladybugs, they are black with red spots. Two red spots to be precise, and that according to some, look like the poor little beastie had been stabbed by some sadistic Homo sapiens.

I'd previously found one of these ladybugs in a similar location, but before the garden had even been planted. However, taking a close look at the specimen Richard had handed me, I realized it was a little bit different. The spots were much larger, of a slightly different shape, and overall there was just something that made me think, "Mmmmmm, maybe this is a different type of twice-stabbed ladybug."

And it was!

 



Twice-stabbed Ladybug, Chilocorus cacti

This brings the total number of ladybugs in the garden to eight! Check out one of our previous ladybug blogs to see what other species we have found, or how about this one?

Check out our submission on the Lost Ladybug project website!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

5 Comments


Related

Charismatic Microfauna in the North Campus

June 22, 2012

I've been away all week in Yellowstone for work and wasn't sure how I'd manage the blog this week. While there, I was stunned by the awesome wildlife I encountered, including bison, elk, black bears, pronghorns, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and even a pack of six gray wolves!

Bison jams are a common occurrence in Yellowstone!For those in the know, these animals are called charismatic megafauna. They are beloved by most, and therefore it's easy to get people to care about them and the issues they face. In stark contrast, much of the fauna I work with, and a focus of both the North Campus and Nature Lab projects, are tiny, seemingly inconsequential, and many times a turn-off to visitors. For instance, it's hard to get people to care about insects that live in what looks like spit! This morning I went out to see what charismatic microfauna I could find in the North Campus.

A pill bug seemingly doing a break dance move!(It was actually caught in a spider's web.)

Aphids eating and ladybugs mating! (Note the soft focus on the ladybugs...I didn't want it to be too explicit.)

Immature Dusky Ladybug(Look at that body gear)

Spittlebug retreats on our rosemary plants.

Spittlebug that lives inside the frothy retreat.Have you seen these insects in your garden? They are a fairly common sight in L.A., and I most often find them on rosemary plants. Although these spittlebugs, a.k.a Froghoppers in the Cercopid family,  can be considered pestsby some gardeners, they don't actually do much damage to the plants. I was actually very excited when spittlebugs showed up in the North Campus, as I get a huge kick out of showing them to kids and adults alike.Visitors are fascinated when I point out the white frothy homes on the plants and then gently remove an immature insect so they can see it up close. Through these moments of wonder and discovery, I hope I can inspire people to care, at least a little bit, about these creatures. They make our outdoor spaces more diverse, interesting, and also play a part in the intricate web of life that exists in each of our backyards.


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


Related

Ladybug Central

March 22, 2011

New Ladybug Record For North CampusOn a recent jaunt around the Museum I found a new ladybug record for the North Campus. Yes, I do get paid to walk around outside and look for insects (awesome job)! I also get paid to keep track of all the creatures we find out there and make sure they are added to our ever expanding North Campus species list. Including this new record, we have found seven different species of ladybugs in the North Campus!

This is Adalia bipunctata, also known as the Two-spotted Ladybug. One of the many things I love about ladybugs is they are so aptly named! Just refer to our Lost Ladybug Field Guide for Los Angeles and you'll find fantastically named species such as the Seven-spotted Ladybug, the Convergent Ladybug, and my favorite, the Twice-stabbed Ladybug (all of which have been found in the North Campus)! This two-spotted ladybug, was found on a bush, recently emerged from its pupa, and then I snapped its picture.Maybe you have Two-spotted Ladybugs in your neighborhood, or what about another species that hasn't been recorded in Los Angeles yet? Check out our Lost Ladybug website for easy to follow instructions, so you can help me track ladybugs in L.A.


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


Related