A beautiful lady clad in red and black went missing from Warwick decades ago.
She was once featured in artwork at the former amusement park at Rocky Point, painted in scenes throughout the old Musik Express ride. She hadn’t been seen in the state since the park was operational, and it was feared she would never be seen here again.
But she was spotted back at the park last June, and now residents are being called upon to help find her kin.
This, however, isn’t a “missing person” report, for the lady in question is a bug – a ladybug.
She goes by the name Coccinella novemnotata, with aliases such as the Nine Spotted Ladybug or Ladybeetle, depending on preference. She may be identified by the four black spots on each of its outer red forewings, with a single spot split between the two.
A native species, they were once the most common ladybeetle in the northeast, even named New York’s state insect. They ranged across the U.S. and southern Canada and were considered an important biological control against other insect pests in gardens and crops. But sometime in the mid-1980s, something changed and the bug began to disappear.
While it’s unclear what exactly prompted the population’s decline, it’s theorized that the disappearance of the beetle was caused by introduced ladybugs, such as the seven spotted ladybug from Europe and the Halloween ladybeetle from Asia, which have moved into its former habitats. Pesticide use may also be a factor.
By 1993 an extensive USDA survey found no trace of the nine spotted ladybug in 11 Northeast states, Rhode Island included.
“We don’t know if this find is a comeback or if this is a last stand, where they’re hanging on by their toenails,” says David Gregg, Ph.D., director of the Rhode Island Natural History Survey, whose team found the insect during a Bio-Blitz survey at Rocky Point.
Held during a weekend last June, the Rocky Point Bio-Blitz saw nearly 200 volunteers, scientists and naturalists painstakingly comb through the park for different groups of organisms such as birds, mammals, fungi, fish and insects. All told, the survey revealed that 969 species were living there.
“We’re organizing a public information event around that,” said Gregg. “It’s sort of weird to discover something months ago and then announce it. Ladybugs aren’t active…and we haven’t even confirmed that it’s there after DEM bulldozed. We know we found one of them there, but we are waiting to have an announcement at a time when we can re-confirm it.”
A few weeks after the Blitz, in July 2014, the 82 acres comprising the state-owned portion of Rocky Point underwent a $3 million cleanup. Under the direction of the Department of Environmental Management, nearly all traces of the remains of the former amusement park that closed in 1995 were removed.
Warwick owns an additional 41 acres of the park’s coastline, which were not part of the cleanup project. The Bio-Blitz mainly focused on this section of the park.
Gregg will present an illustrated program about last summer’s study at Warwick City Hall next Wednesday, June 3 from 7 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. Along with the ladybug, there were other unexpected animal finds at the park that will be revealed during the presentation. He’s hoping for the community’s help.
“We also want to ask from people, not just at Rocky Point but in Warwick and other coastal locations, to join the Lost Ladybug Project and be on the lookout for the ladybug, because if there’s some at Rocky Point, there’s a chance they’re somewhere else too,” said Gregg.
It was in March that the Lost Ladybug Project confirmed the identity of the specimen found during Bio-Blitz. The project was created by researchers at Cornell University to survey ladybugs in New York. They later developed survey projects for children across the country. Through their website, www.lostladybug.org, and their associated Facebook page, an effort is being made to provide more information and track ladybug sightings nationwide.
“It’s a totally cool story,” said Gregg. “We’re hoping we get kids all over Warwick looking for ladybugs and sending in pictures. It’s an awesome story.”