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Coccinella novemnotata, Nine Spotted Lady Beetle

Join the search for C-9 and other lost ladybugs!

Up until the mid-1980's, New York's state insect, the native ladybird beetle, Coccinella novemnotata (C-9) was the most common lady beetle (coccinellid) in the northeastern U.S. This relatively large (5-7 mm) species ranged across the U.S. and through Southern Canada and was an important biological control agent in gardens and crops in the northeast. Collections of C-9 declined through the mid to late 1980's. The latest reported collection in the northeastern U.S. was 1992, although C-9 may have persisted beyond this date in low densities. C-9 could eat many different species of aphid and could live in many different crops including alfalfa, clover, corn, cotton, potatoes, soybeans and arboreal habitats (Harmon et al 2007).

The historically broad geographic range of C-9 stands in stark contrast to its current range. An extensive USDA APHIS coccinellid survey in 1993 found no C-9 in eleven Northeastern states. This cooperative study focused on 100 counties and was based on comprehensive fieldwork and data from personal collections. Based on the latest records in the literature, C-9 was last collected in Maryland in 1986, Pennsylvania in 1987, Delaware in 1988 and Maine in 1992. A coccinellid study several years in duration in Kentucky found no C-9 in corn, tobacco, tomatoes and soybeans. Declines in C-9 populations in Alabama and Mississippi have been recorded since the early 1990's, so there is little reason to believe that C-9 will not continue to disappear from its current range.

There are many questions to be answered on the disappearance of this native ladybird beetle, including the possibility that introduced ladybirds have excluded it from habitats that it once favored. The timing of the extirpation of this native species overlaps with the arrival and establishment of its congener, Coccinella septempunctata or C-7. Making a definitive statement about the effects of C-7 on C-9 is difficult as no data were taken as C-7 expanded its range and C-9’s contracted. Since then, three other introduced species have established, Harmonia axyridis, Propylaea quatuordecimpunctata and Hippodamia variegata. These species are particularly voracious, but it is difficult to quantify this factor in an ecologically realistic setting. Coccinellids are frequently parasitized by Dinocampus coccinellae, a braconid wasp. Although this wasp is native to the Northeast, it is possible that introduced species carried in more wasps upon introduction, potentially altering parasitoid-host dynamics for native species. Cropping patterns and loss of agricultural land may have played a prominent role as well.

Fortunately, although C-9 has declined precipitiously some recent discoveries indicate that it continues to persist. Jilene (age 11) and Jonathan (age 10) Penhale found a nine spotted ladybug near their home in Virginia in October 2006 (read more about this discovery). This is the first C-9 seen in the eastern U.S. in 14 years. Their finding confirmed that the species is not extinct and gave specialists a place to start some intensive hunting. Recent sitings were also recorded from Alberta, Canada (Ladybugs of Alberta, John Acorn, 2006) and Nebraska in 2007 (Scott Black, Xerces Society, 2007). A new citizen science project has been launched at Cornell (the Lost Ladybug Project) to educate the public on the importance of biodiversity and conservation and to recruit them to join in the effort to document the current status of C-9 and other rare ladybug species.


Resources: See Harmon et al. 2007 (J. Insect Cons. Bio. 11:85-94) and essay in Wings

Written by: Erin Stephens, 2002; Updated by John Losey, 2008

Image credit: W. Louis Tedders (ARS, Retired)