The saying goes, “Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home.” But a new program encourages ladybugs to fly away home — into you backyard. Any gardening expert will tell you that ladybugs are among the best natural pesticides because they prefer to munch on many crop-eating insects. But their species is in decline, and some ladybugs have vanished from their native areas. USA Today reports that scientists have launched a program to restore the ladybug to its rightful place — and the scientists are recruiting young school children to help the cause.

Ladybugs are well-known worker bugs that feast on pests that like to eat corn, soybeans and other crops. Farmers invite them into their fields because the bugs greatly reduce the need for pesticides. Mike Catangui is an extension entomologist at South Dakota State University. As he told USA Today, "[Ladybugs] are cute and cuddly as adult insects, but they're predators, make no mistake. There's a big economic value of this. ... They're working-class bugs, but we don't have to pay them."

But since the 1970s and '80s, some species of ladybugs have been in rapid decline. They have virtually vanished from the Great Plains. But the Lost Ladybug Project out of South Dakota aims to get students involved in helping ladybugs regain their populations. This project is a nationwide search to find ladybugs and assist them to reproduce in a lab. Scientists hope that if they can replenish the ladybug populations in a lab, the bugs can safely return to their native lands. Focusing on three species of ladybugs — the nine-spotted or C9s, the transverse and the two-spotted — the Lost Ladybug Project encourages children all over the country to look for the insects in their backyards, parks and more. 

Further, scientists hope that the project will help answer why the ladybugs disappeared in the first place. Scientists suspect that an invasive beetle species imported from Europe and Asia is the culprit. John Losey is an associate professor at Cornell who co-founded the Lost Ladybug Project. As he told USA Today, "Once we know why they declined, we will be on our way to being able to help them and other species in the same predicament."

USA Today reports that the project, started in 2000, received a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation. Originally, Cornell scientists partnered with 4-H cooperative extension master gardeners to study ladybugs in New York; later, South Dakota joined in. The project leaders estimate that current participation includes 2,127 people, including 1,075 children under the age of 14. Participants are asked to submit photographs and descriptions of found ladybugs at  

For further reading: Students and scientists try to encourage ladybug love