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The Lost Ladybug Project is a citizen science project administered by the entomology department at Cornell University. The Project is designed to track ladybugs all over the United States in an attempt to learn more about the shifts occurring in ladybug populations. Entomologists around the United States have noted a marked decline of some once very well-known ladybug species, while exotic species seem to be filling in the niche left behind, and entomologists are curious about how and why this is happening.
Citizen science initiatives harness the power of the public to accomplish scientific research. While Cornell entomologists could potentially travel across the United States slowly surveying ladybug populations, it's much easier to ask people to send in submissions from all over the country, generating a steady stream of data which can be used to analyze ladybug populations.
The administrators of the Lost Ladybug Project have asked people of all ages to send in photographs of ladybugs they encounter, along with information about where and when the ladybugs were spotted. Ladybug photographs can be emailed to the scientists through their website, or prints can be sent to the entomology department at Cornell, addressed to the attention of the Lost Ladybug Project.
Photographing a ladybug for the Lost Ladybug Project can be tricky, as the insects are prone to moving around. The best pictures are shot from straight overhead, allowing researchers to clearly see the top of the ladybug, and on white paper, to provide sufficient contrast for the subject to stand out. In the case of especially active ladybugs, a few minutes in the fridge can help calm the subject long enough for it to be photographed and then released.
Because the Lost Ladybug Project requires a relatively simple task, it is accessible to people of all ages. Researchers hope that in addition to getting heaps of submissions, they will also be able to interest young people in science, by engaging them in a project which encourages them to think about science and conservation issues. Many media features on the Lost Ladybug Project have stressed the idea that children can and should participate, pointing out that one of the most momentous discoveries made thus far was achieved by a pair of children, ages 10 and 11; the pair discovered a nine spotted ladybug in a region of the United States where such ladybugs hadn't been seen in 14 years.