Researcher finds rare lady beetles — 'Esteemed Sigil' & 'Two-spotted' — missing in Vt. for decades
It's been a big summer for native lady beetles in Vermont. There are 38 species that are considered native to the state, but eight of them haven't been seen in some time.
Two previously missing species — the Two-spotted Lady Beetle and the Esteemed Sigil Lady Beetle — were sighted at Mills Riverside Park in Jericho last month.
Julia Pupko is an Americorps volunteer with the Vermont Center for Ecostudies. They were casually sweeping their net across some Joe-Pye weed and goldenrod at Mills Riverside Park on the morning of Juneteenth, when they scooped up a beetle.
It happened to be a Two-spotted Lady Beetle.
"I was very shocked and super excited, and I had to finish looking through my net to see if there were any other lady beetles in there," Pupko said. "And come to find out, there was a second Two-spotted Lady Beetle in my net at the same time, which is wild!"
Shortly after, Pupko found an Esteemed Sigil Lady Beetle, which hadn't been seen in Vermont since the 1970s.
"It was within 50 feet from where I found the Two-spotted Lady Beetles, and it was also the next time I opened my net, which was just kind of astounding as well," they said.
Pupko coordinates the Vermont Lady Beetle Atlas, which keeps track of the insects across the state.
This was their first time discovering a "missing" species. And finding two individuals is promising, Pupko says.
"So hopefully that points to the fact that there's a healthy population in that area," they said.
Pupko says the Two-spotted Lady Beetle used to be one of the most common lady beetle species in Vermont.
And it's not alone in seeing broad population decline across its range — many native lady beetle species have been in decline since the mid- to late- 1900s.
"Those declines are thought to have been caused by and continue to be caused by the introduction of non-native species, which includes the Asian Lady Beetle that people commonly find in their house, especially during the winter and spring," Pupko said.
Changing land use is also a factor.
"They have very intricate lives and systems and interactions that you just wouldn't really even imagine."Julia Pupko
But there's some good news:
This summer, Pupko also discovered two other lady beetle species that hadn't previously been spotted in Vermont — Hyperaspis troglodytes and Hyperaspis deludens.
Hyperaspis troglodytes is a tiny and globally rare black beetle with pale spots. Pupko found one in their friend's backyard in Norwich in May.
"It was a rather shocking discovery, given that it was just in somebody's lawn, hanging out," they said.
They found a Hyperaspis deludenson an elderberry bush in the Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge.
Both are about the size of a pencil tip.
Pupko says people can help locate more by uploading photos of lady beetles they find to the free iNaturalist application. You can do this by taking a photo of the beetle's head, its middle section and also its wing covers.
One perk of looking for beetles — they're fairly under-studied, so if you spend enough time looking as a citizen scientist, Pupko says there's a reasonably good chance you could rediscover a species that hasn't been seen in a long time, or find one that's never before been documented.
"They have very intricate lives and systems and interactions that you just wouldn't really even imagine," Pupko said.