ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
Cornell University is amassing an army of researchers - all of them under the age of 12. It's called the Lost Ladybug Project.
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SEABROOK: This week in Science Out of the Box, the man using ladybugs as lures, John Losey. He's an entomologist at the Cornell University. Hi there, John Losey.
Professor JOHN LOSEY (Entomology, Cornell University): Hi.
SEABROOK: So, the Lost Ladybug Project. Twelve-year-old scientists?
Prof. LOSEY: Yeah. One of the goals of the project is to really show 12-year-olds that science is not something that's only done by professionals in some ivory tower, that they can actually do real science in their own backyards.
SEABROOK: So, what are they doing? They're going out and looking for ladybugs?
Prof. LOSEY: They are, and one of the things that we want them to do is see if there are rare ladybugs in their backyards because some of our formerly most common ladybugs have declined to the point where we're afraid they may be going extinct. And they're very important in terms of pest control in agricultural systems.
SEABROOK: The nine-spotted ladybug, the state insect of New York.
Prof. LOSEY: It's true - it is our state insect. And up till maybe 20 years ago it was one of the most common in the U.S. But just in the last couple of decades it's declined to the point where we haven't caught it here in New York in over 15 years and only, like, ten individuals have been collected anywhere in the U.S.
SEABROOK: Wow. Okay. So, you're not just looking for the nine-spot though. You're looking for ladybugs everywhere and tell me how to do it.
Prof. LOSEY: Well, what we're asking people to do is to go out, find a ladybug and to take digital images of those ladybugs and email us those images. And we're creating a national database for ladybugs where we can start to get a handle of where the rare native ones are and where the more exotic ones are that have been introduced from other countries.
SEABROOK: I think this is so cool. I looked at your Web site and there are really great tips for how to collect ladybugs. You tell people how to make a net…
Prof. LOSEY: Yes.
SEABROOK: …and sweep fields with the net or to stand around a tree and put a sheet underneath and then maybe shake the tree.
Prof. LOSEY: Right.
SEABROOK: And then one of my favorite parts is how to get the ladybug to slow down enough to take its pictures. How do you do it?
Prof. LOSEY: You got to chill out and that's important…
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Prof. LOSEY: …for humans and ladybugs both. And the idea is that you put them for a short time in the freezer or for a little bit longer time in the 'frigerator.
SEABROOK: So, chill out literally.
Prof. LOSEY: Literally chill out, yes.
SEABROOK: And of course you don't want to leave them in the freezer too long, right?
Prof. LOSEY: No, right. And then you shoot them with a camera and we're not necessarily looking for pretty pictures.
SEABROOK: So, tell us the Web site.
Prof. LOSEY: The Web site is ladybug.ento.cornell.edu.
SEABROOK: So, John Losey, I understand you've got a line on some nine-spot ladybugs out there in America?
Prof. LOSEY: Yes, and it's more than just a hot tip.
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Prof. LOSEY: Because hot tips with ladybugs tend to be like hot tips with Bigfoot. But in this case our collaborator collected two nine-spot ladybugs in the Badlands last week.
SEABROOK: And you're hopping a plane to go…
Prof. LOSEY: And we're - yeah - we're hopping on a plane, my son and I - Ben, who's eight years old and a better collector than I am - and we are going to go hopefully collect some more of these nine spots and start a colony in the lab. And then we can start doing some research to try to find out why they're having problems and hopefully keep it from happening to other species.
SEABROOK: John Losey is the head of the Lost Ladybug Project at Cornell University. Thanks so much for talking to us. Good luck.
Prof. LOSEY: Thank you.
SEABROOK: No ladybugs were hurt during the course of this interview.
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Unidentified Man: (Singing) One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve ladybugs came to the ladybug picnic. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, and they all played games at the ladybug picnic. They had twelve sacks so they ran sack races and they fell on the back then they fell on their faces, ladybug…
SEABROOK: It's NPR News.
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