The Catalpa trees grow and the big heart-shaped leaves attract aphids, lots of aphids. The aphids, tiny little white sucking machines, coat the leaves with their “dew” — what goes in must come out in some form — which in turn attracts ants and wasps. The aphids themselves attract ladybugs, hungry little beasts. All the dark things on the leaf above are early-stage instars of lady beetle larvae, which look absolutely nothing like the shiny, round adults. This photo and the one below are shot with my camera’s macro through a 10x loupe. The ‘gator-like larval stage ladybug — see the two spots on its side, like the adult Two-spotted — is surrounded by aphids; these aphids are so small they can barely be seen with the naked eye. I don’t know if these are instals of A. bipunctata, but suspect so. I doubt that’s my hair, since I was wearing a hat. This one is so plump I suspect it’s close to pupating.
I have read that some localities ban Catalpas because they are messy trees, dropping foot-long, dried bean-pod-like seed pods, dripping with sticky goo, swarming with insects. But let’s hear it for mess! Nature is messy, complicated, interrelated. It is not a lawn or vast monocultural farm field soaked in poisons, which, as we keep learning over and over again, do tend to move from the insects and plants they are aimed against to fish and reptiles and birds and mammals, including the very people who apply the toxins and the rest of us. Quelle surprise! Luckily, Brooklyn Bridge Park has had the vision to plant Catalpas all over the place. And almost every one of these trees has Two-spotted ladybugs in them. Remember, this is a species that isn’t being seen as much as it used to be. Above and below, Two-spotted pairs are engaged in making more of their kind.Remember, too, that while the standard Adalia bipunctata is red-orange with two black spots, there are melanistic variations that are black with four red spots (or squares as in the side markings here), among other patterns.Here’s what the loupe/camera set up view looks like before cropping. Rest of my left-hand fingers are supporting the leaf from underneath. I’m amazed these came out this well. I wrote most of this post some weeks again, but a cursory look yesterday found three adult TSLs underneath some awfully bedraggled looking Catalpa leaves. Three cheers for bedraggled!
For my first discovery of these rare beetles two years ago on these trees, see here.
Not only does the Multicolored Asian Ladybeetle (Harmonia axyridis) come in multiple colors, they’re also found with a variable number of spots. Or none at all. That’s me in the reflection of those high-gloss elytra.
(Post title refers to the first release of the species in the U.S., which was done by the USDA. Subsequent releases may have been accidental.)
On the veldt of my arm, a tiny lady beetle that turned out to be the 20-spotted, Psyllobora vigintimaculata. Found throughout most of the US, barring FL and the SE coast, and into Canada. Unlike most lady bugs, carnivorous-chompers if there ever were any, the Pysllobora genus ladies are fungus-eaters. The “Latin” name of the genus is actually Greek and means “flea [of the} north”. It was awfully small, perhaps 3mm long, the smallest lady beetle I’ve ever seen. Light enough to start crawling up one of my arm hairs. I was sitting by the Hudson River in Battery Park City when I noticed it landing on me. A handsome example with the orange, black, and white markings. They come in quite a range of variations. (And all, I’ll wager, a challenge to half-century old eyeballs: I took these pictures with the phone)
Two years ago, I stumbled upon some unfamiliar ladybugs. There were Two-spotted (Adalia bipunctata), which turned out to be rather rare. It was the first Brooklyn report for the species. Last summer, the site was inaccessible to civilians because of construction. This weekend I took a look at the trees, as I usually do. They have been quite active with Multicolored Asian Ladybugs (Harmonia axyridis) for the last couple of weeks. But hello! Something different from the very round, very large (for a ladybug) H. axyridis, a nuisance species, if not worse, spread by gardeners and garden-suppliers. Indeed, many think the spread of these beetles has been the cause, or one of the causes, of the decline of the likes of A. bipunctata and other now rare native species. But the Two-spotted is still in town. While trying to get a live photo, the beetle flew down to my camera lens, so I snapped this pic with my phone.
From the Lost Lady Project, I’ve learned that A. bipunctata has been reported at four New York State sites. Like many native species, it has been declining in numbers for the last twenty years or more. The location here is tiny, just a few trees, and isolated from other bits of green. It shows the importance of having a variety of trees and plants in as many places as possible. But this location is much busier with humans than it used to be…
Only three other places in New York! This isn’t to say there aren’t more places, which haven’t been discovered because there aren’t as many people looking for lady beetles as, say, there are people enabling FIFA’s looting, and/or staring at their toenails, but it does suggest their specialness. Speaking of nails. The Two-spotted comes in a variety of color forms. This one, found at the same time, is particularly striking.
The Catalpa trees — both the Northern Catalpa (C. bignonioides) and the Southern (C. speciosa) are found in the park — are ladybug magnets. The large heart-shaped leaves are often sticky, perhaps from the excretions of aphids, a favorite ladybug food. Right now, the nymph stages of the lady beetles, these small but frightful looking creatures, are out and about. This is one of the Multicolored Asian Ladybeetle (Harmonia axyridis). Here’s a passel of them in their pupal stage, transforming into adults under a Catalpa leaf:Metamorphosis is so wonderfully strange (to this mammal, anyway): the nymphs, which are actually larger than the adult, will completely transform into the more familiar round red (and other colored) beetles, their bodies chemically broken down and reformed while they are inside the pupa.An earlier instar of the all too-common MAL? (This one is on a milkweed.) Ladybug nymphs typically have four instars, or stages, which they molt through as they grow.
Once emerged, the adult beetle will harden, darken, and get spotted. Here’s another adult on a Catalpa leaf so sticky it’s glistening:The pale things are aphids.
Aphids feasting on plant juices, a 14-spotted lady beetle (Propylea quatuordecimpunctata) and syrphid fly larva (h/t for the ID on this one, Lost Ladybug Project) feeding on aphids.
My “Year of the Ladybug” continues. Or, should I say, Year of the Aphids? Since it is the aphids, those little buggers, who have ushered in the ladies. This glossy creature is the Polished Lady Beetle, Cycloneda munda, a species new to me.Also known commonly as the Red Lady Beetle and the Immaculate — that is, spotless — Ladybug. There are three species of Cycloneda in North America, with C. munda being the one found here in the North East.
One of the larva stage C. mundas, no orisons here, with a crunchy aphid at the business end. Photographed yesterday, in a drizzly, foggy, damp, humid, clammy Brooklyn Bridge Park, where the polish on the adult beetle shone out like a lighthouse.