So what happened to the lost ladybugs?

“We don’t know yet,” Losey says. Perhaps they were crowded out of their traditional habitat by more competitive invaders, although native numbers had started to shrink before the foreigners took over. “Did the natives decline and then the foreigners moved into the void? Or did the foreigners move in and push the natives out?”

The natives may have shifted their habitat from farm fields to woods or grasslands, Hesler says. Or, they might be moving west into drier regions. He has found nine-spotted, two-spotted and transverse ladybugs in western South Dakota and western Nebraska. They’ve been spotted in Colorado, Oregon and Washington, too.

Once entomologists have a clearer understanding of ladybug population patterns, they may try re-establishing colonies of natives in Midwest farm fields, Hesler says. Meanwhile, all you shutterbugs can help Losey and Hesler track ladybugs.

“We ask for photos, because you can identify ladybugs from their spots alone,” Losey says. The scientists are interested in a digital picture of any ladybug you find, even if it’s not a native. That will help them gauge the relative abundance of species. And if you can send photos from the same fields over time, the information becomes more valuable yet.

Thanks to a growing team of citizen scientists, Losey says, “We have a better handle on what species are out there, in what habitats, and where the natives are hanging on.”

For instructions on how to participate in the Lost Ladybug Project, plus general ladybug information go to www.lostladybug.org.