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Crooked Creek program tracks ladybug population

| Thursday, June 19, 2014, 12:16 a.m.

Organizers of a nature program in Bethel this weekend plan to teach folks how to count spots.

The Lost Ladybug Project is a national Citizen Science program promoted by the Audubon Society. The free event will be held on Sunday at the Crooked Creek Environmental Learning Center.

“One of the things we're noticing over the past few years is the changing population of native and non-native ladybugs,” said Gabrielle Hughes, environmental educator with the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania.

Some of the non-natives are increasing, while many of the native varieties seem to be disappearing. The non-native Asian lady beetle is the one people will notice congregating in their homes, Hughes said.

It was first introduced by the Department of Agriculture as a biological control agent and was released in Pennsylvania in 1978 and 1981, according to the Penn State University extension website.

They are sold as a pest control and do a really good job at eating harmful garden pests like aphids.

“But a number of our native ladybugs are declining,” she said, adding that recent studies show it's possible non-native ladybugs may be carrying pathogens that they have adapted to but that could be adversely affecting the native variety.

“We are noticing some diseases that are cropping up with native species,” Hughes said.

That's why programs like the one this weekend, funded by the Dominion Foundation, have been organized.

“We're trying to get people actively involved so they can contribute to scientific research,” she said.

Sunday's workshop will focus on nine species, including the rare nine-spotted ladybug. Participants will learn how to identify and report their findings.

Dennis Hawley, program coordinator of the Crooked Creek Environmental Learning Center, said tracking ladybug populations is something people of all ages can participate in.

“It's something people can do in their back yard,” he said. “Having lots of eyes and ears out there helps.”

Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 or bbeatty@tribweb.com.

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