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New York's state insect is the nine-spotted lady bird beetle, also often called the spotted ladybug. It was designated in 1989, and around that time another six states also chose the spotted ladybug as their state insect: Massachusetts, Tennessee, Ohio, Delaware, New Hampshire, and North Dakota. This article tells you what you need to know about New York's state insect.
The Nine-Spotted Lady Bird Beetle's Scientific Name
The spotted ladybug is one of 5,000 lady bird beetle species worldwide, and more than 400 in North America. They form the family Coccinellidae; within that huge beetle family there are many different sub-groups. The spotted lady bird beetle is in the genus Coccinella, along with a host of related ladybugs that share distinctive features and a shared evolutionary lineage.
The specific name of the nine-spotted lady bird beetle is novemnotata, which if you know Latin you will recognize as meaning "nine-spotted." Put it together with the genus name and you get a big name for such a little insect: Coccinella novemnotata.
Nearly Extinct – The Surprise Find That Kept the Spotted Ladybug in Its Place of Honor
Although the nine-spotted lady bird beetle was designated in 1989, it was almost replaced with the pink spotted ladybug in 2006. This was because the nine-spotted had not been seen in New York for years, and it was feared that it may have gone extinct in the state. But in 2011, a colony of about 20 individuals was discovered on a farm in Amagansett, NY. This was definitely good news for both the beetle and its cheerleaders in the New York state government.
How to Identify the Nine-Spotted Lady Bird Beetle
Lady bird beetles often look very much alike, and most people are familiar with their general appearance – round and convex, on the small side, bright red or orange, and bearing a variable number of black spots. The nine-spotted ladybug is just under a half-inch in length, with four black spots on each elytra, the scientific name for the hard, shell-like wing covers that shield the insect's back. The ninth spot comes from the black coloring of the scutellum, the little triangle that sits up front and between the elytra.
It can be difficult to tell the difference between different species of lady bird beetle. If you think you have found the rare nine-spotted ladybug, then by all means take a picture and send it around to the biology department of a local university, or to your state's department of agriculture. If you're in New York, you can send them a message here.
"Complete metamorphosis" is the term used to describe the life cycle of insects that go through a four-stage sequence of forms. For butterflies, this means egg-larva-cocoon/chrysalis-adult. It helps to take the butterfly as the example, although dragonflies, bees, wasps, flies, beetles, and many other insects also go through complete metamorphosis. Like butterflies, they all have larvae and all of the other developmental stages.
The life cycle of the lady bird beetle can be seen as analogous to a butterfly's. The egg hatches into a larva that is something like a caterpillar, only in this case it eats other insects (aphids) instead of leaves. When the larva is full grown, it forms a pupa that is very much like a small butterfly chrysalis. The adult hatches out, lets its wings expand and harden, and then flies away to mate and repeat the cycle.
Natural History and Habits
Like virtually all beetles in the family Coccinellidae, the nine-spotted lady bird beetle is a predator that feed on other insects. This is beneficial for farmers and gardeners, since the insects these beetles most typically feed on is aphids. Aphids are a serious pest on many garden and farm plants, and the presence of ladybugs helps keep them under control.
It's not just the adult beetle that feeds on aphids; the beetle larvae do as well. If you spend much time at all outside, you have almost certainly encountered ladybug larvae in the vicinity of aphid colonies. They look a bit like tiny lizards, and they are voracious predators.
During the winter, ladybugs are known to congregate in tightly-packed groups to conserve heat and energy to survive. In the wild this may mean in a cave or inside a tree trunk, but if there is a house nearby they are just as likely to gather between the walls, under the eaves, or in a corner of the basement. You maybe find them wandering around inside when the weather starts to wam up, or even in the dead of winter.
The Amazing Variety of Lady Bird Beetles
The following sources were used for this guide: