ENCINITAS — Children were called upon to become “citizen scientists” during the annual Ladybug Day at San Diego Botanic Garden on April 24.
In addition to the numerous craft activities for young children, the gardens also provided the opportunity to assist scientists at Cornell University to find, photograph and release ladybugs as part of the Lost Ladybug Project.
These scientists are concerned about the decline of native ladybugs and need help finding out what kind of ladybugs can be found in each region of the country. Photos taken by budding young scientists during the festival will be uploaded so the experts at Cornell can identify them.
Marla Sac, 5, wasn’t aware that she would be helping to investigate the ladybug when she showed up at the gardens. “I just like how ladybugs are pretty and have spots and they can sit on your hand for a long, long time,” she said. Her mother, Saundra, said the scientific twist was a welcome surprise. “I think kids are innately curious and that makes for a good scientist,” she said.
The field researchers took their job very seriously. “I’m going to find 100 ladybugs and put them in this jar,” David Sanchez, an Oceanside first-grader said, holding up a container provided by the gardens volunteers. “I have to be very quiet so I can see them.”
Many of the children divided their time between the fruit garden looking for ladybugs and the Seeds of Wonder garden where crafts and educational materials were available. “I already knew aphids were a ladybugs favorite food because I read it at school,” Cynthia Pruitt, 7, proudly stated. What the Leucadia resident didn’t know is that aphids like to eat plants and gardeners often attempt to eliminate them with pesticides which effectively cut off the ladybugs’ food supply.
“I think it’s a valuable lesson to teach our children that everything has its place in nature,” Barbara Watson said. The Encinitas mother of two said the gardens provide a perfect setting to explore the natural world. “In just a couple of hours my kids and I have learned more about ladybugs than we could have reading a book or in a classroom,” she said.
Many of the facts about ladybugs were new to participants. Not all ladybugs are really ladies. In fact, much of the common knowledge about the much beloved “bug” is out of date. All ladybugs are born black and it only takes the larvae, or baby ladybug, about one week to grow into an adult.
“They have to work very hard to fly,” Pruitt said after reading a fact sheet. A ladybug beats its wings 85 times a second when it flies. “Maybe that’s why they sit on your hand for so long,” she wondered aloud.