Researchers at Cornell and South Dakota State universities want to chart the progress of native ladybug species in the face of an Asian invasion. But they can't do it alone.
They want you to take a picture of every ladybug that crosses your path.
"There's not enough trained entomologists," said John Losey, associate professor of entomology at Cornell and principal investigator for the Lost Ladybug Project.
America is home to about 500 ladybug species, though only about 75 are cute, round and red, yellow or orange.
Not so long ago, these native bugs could be regularly seen munching aphids most anywhere. Recently, though, wide-ranging lady beetles have been introduced across America.
The home-invading, multicolored Harmonia axyridis, for example, was introduced from Asia to kill fruit mites, said Tom Stebbins, horticulture extension agent for Hamilton County.
"Mites used to be a terrible problem in orchards. They'd have to spray about once a week," Mr. Stebbins said. Today, Asian lady beetles keep those pests under control.
Unexpectedly, though, the Harmonias took to swarming homes in winter. They also jam grape-harvesting machines, sometimes spoiling wine, Dr. Losey said.
Meanwhile, native lady beetles appear to have disappeared.
"If you had gone for a walk 20 years ago, you would have seen native species of ladybugs. Now they're gone," Dr. Losey said.
The Lost Ladybug Project confirms the dominance of foreign bugs. Three-quarters of more than 1,000 photos received so far show exotic ladybugs, Dr. Losey said. Nearly 58 percent of the total show just one species - Harmonia axyridis.
Rare ladybugs have shown up though, too.
"We have more sightings of the (very rare) nine-spot ladybug through our project than all the scientific publications have found in over 20 years," Dr. Losey said.
The project stores and tracks images through discoverlife.org, a giant naturalist-created database, said Rebecca Rice Smyth, education and outreach coordinator for Lost Ladybug.
So far, the project has received one photo from Tennessee, one from Alabama and one from Georgia. None were from the Chattanooga area, Dr. Rice Smyth said. More photos from the Southeast would help, she said.