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Kenmare 2nd graders push to get lady beetle named as North Dakota's official bug

When four Kenmare second graders testify at the North Dakota House of Representatives Political Subdivisions Committee hearing in Bismarck Friday on behalf of their proposal to designate the lady beetle as the state’s official insect, they will be prepared:

1/19/11 (Wed)


When four Kenmare second graders testify at the North Dakota House of Representatives Political Subdivisions Committee hearing in Bismarck Friday on behalf of their proposal to designate the lady beetle as the state’s official insect, they will be prepared:


They have 20 copies of a decorated portfolio filled with useful information about lady beetles, one for each member of the committee.


They will be wearing bright red and black lady beetle costumes, along with necklaces featuring magnifying chambers holding live lady beetles.


They will sing two songs written specifically to remind the lawmakers about the potential value of lady beetles to North Dakota farmers.


They will answer questions about the life cycle and natural history of lady beetles and their interest in promoting this insect.


They will describe why the ladybug should be properly called the lady beetle.


And they will explain why they have to amend their own proposed legislation, drafted with the assistance of Representative Glen Froseth, Kenmare, and introduced by Representatives Froseth, Patrick Hatlestad and Gary Kreidt and Senator Karen Krebsbach.


Studying ladybugs

since last year

Students Isabel Schwab, Megan Zimmer, Logan Redding and Jaden McNeiley know plenty about lady beetles. After all, they’ve been studying them for over a year, beginning in first grade during a project for their reading enrichment time spent with instructor Tami McNeiley.


“We started a unit on [ladybugs] last year and we thought they were cute,” explained Logan. “Then we found out North Dakota didn’t have a state insect.”


“Not only are they cute, but we wanted to go green,” added Jaden. “We found out farmers could use less pesticide because ladybugs eat the aphids [that destroy crops] and this would save plants.”


He paused for a moment, then ticked off a list of North Dakota crops that could potentially benefit from lady beetle appetites. “Barley, corn, wheat and the stuff that makes spaghetti,” he said. “Durum.”


So, last spring, the group expanded their activities from reading about and raising lady beetles to advocating for them. They asked Representative Froseth to assist them in drafting legislation to add a section to North Dakota Century Code that would designate the ladybug as the official state insect.


Everyone enjoyed the process and with the 62nd North Dakota Legislative Assembly now in session, Froseth introduced the bill just as he promised.


Suddenly, the kids discovered they were going to learn much more about the process of making laws than they ever imagined. The bill was assigned for consideration to the House Political Subdivisions Committee and scheduled for a hearing on Friday, January 21st, at 11 am.


Then, daily newspapers in Bismarck and Fargo published the story of the students who wanted the ladybug to become the state insect of North Dakota, which was next broadcast by North Dakota radio stations.


The news traveled around the state and the nation on the social networking outlets FaceBook and Twitter, and then on various blogs related to insects. That’s when Mrs. McNeiley discovered a problem.


A comment about the students’ project left on one of the blogs she was reading criticized the kids for naming the wrong species of ladybug, Coccinella septempunctata, in the bill. That particular species is native to Europe, not North Dakota, but it is a common form of lady beetle that most people think of when they mention “ladybug.”


The offending scientific name was not the form chosen by the students, but it was inserted into the bill when the draft was prepared for submission.


“We haven’t even talked to the committee yet, and we already need to amend the bill to change the name of the species to a species that’s native to North Dakota,” McNeiley said.


She admitted to a moment of doubt when confronted with the problem, but after consulting with Representative Froseth she contacted Dr. Arthur Evans, an entomologist at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., about the project and the new problem.


Dr. Evans suggested the Kenmare second graders propose to designate Hippodamia convergens, or the convergent lady beetle, as the state insect. That species is native to North Dakota.


Furthermore, Dr. Evans informed McNeiley the other states that have already chosen the lady beetle as their state insect, including New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, Delaware and Massachusetts, actually have the incorrect species listed. “If North Dakota would get this passed and we have the right name for the ladybug, this would be the first state to do so,” McNeiley said.


Dr. Evans also connected the students with one of the premier lady beetle specialists in the country, Dr. Robert Gordon, who is retired from the Smithsonian Institute and now lives in Willow City, North Dakota. McNeiley described him as the “ladybug guru.”


“I was able to get in touch with him, and one of the first things is that he was adamant we use the name ‘lady beetle,’ not ‘ladybug,’” said McNeiley. “We’re going to try to see if we can get him to come to the hearing.”


Students know

plenty of facts

The students seem to have faith in their teacher’s ability to work through this issue, and they’ve been concentrating their efforts on the presentation.


They know plenty of facts about the lady beetle. “You can fit 72,000 of them in a one-gallon jar,” reported Logan.


“And in one second, one can flap its wings 85 times,” added Jaden.


“The females are actually bigger than the males,” said Megan. “And lady beetles can be brown, pink, yellow, red or orange.”


“They are even some ladybugs that are black with red spots,” Jaden said. Isabel showed photos from one of the group’s favorite insect magazines to prove him right.


“And their spots fade as they get older,” Logan explained, with her classmates adding that some lady beetles have no spots at all.


Isabel described how lady beetles survive the winters in North Dakota by hibernating. “They sometimes go into people’s houses,” she said. “They can get in through little cracks in the walls and stay there.”


And all four kids can recite the four stages of a lady beetle’s life cycle, after hatching nearly 30 eggs and raising the insects last spring: “Egg, pupa, larva, adult!”


But it’s the whole process of lady beetle larvae and adults eating aphids that destroy crops and gardens that has the kids really excited. They explained that lady beetles themselves have a form of blood that tastes bitter to would-be predators, so they are generally left alone to consume their preferred diet of aphids. “Their blood saves their lives,” said Megan.


“And the aphids are sweet,” Isabel said, describing why the lady beetles even want to consume aphids, “because they suck the juices out of plants, and those juices are sweet.”


Megan witnessed lady beetles in action at her grandmother’s garden in Kenmare. “Last summer, we saw about a thousand ladybugs there,” she said, “and it was because of aphids. [My sister and I] caught like a ton of [ladybugs], but then we let them go.”


“If you want ladybugs, online you can actually buy 1,500 ladybugs for $6.50,” said Jaden. “That’s actually a good thing. It would be cheaper than pesticides. And you can buy 10,000 of them for $100.”


The students agreed lady beetles are harmless to humans and even more interesting because they are one of the insect species that has been sent into space for experiments. “They wanted to see if they would eat aphids while they were up there,” Jaden said, “and the ladybugs did, one hundred percent!”


“And they named those four ladybugs after the Beatles music group,” added Logan, with her classmates chiming in to recite the names, “John, Paul, Ringo and George.”


The kids also agreed with the folk belief that lady beetles are a sign of good luck, and they have been wished “good ladybug luck” by several adult insect-lovers from around the country who are watching this story develop. “We’re overwhelmed with all the attention,” said Mrs. McNeiley.


“Lady beetles make North Dakota look lucky,” said Megan. Then she went on to explain that luck. “Some people think if you see ladybugs that have less than seven spots, the farmers will have a good harvest,” she said. “If the ladybugs have more than seven spots, that means a bad harvest.”


The students hope some of that lady beetle luck favors their efforts, and they plan to promote their cause with T-shirts printed with the phrases “Vote for the Lady Beetle” on one side and “I am lucky to live in North Dakota!” on the other.


Even with a year’s worth of study and research, and intense preparation for Friday’s hearing, Jaden, Isabel, Logan and Megan realize their proposal to designate the colorful and beneficial lady beetle as the state insect may not happen. However, they’re making their best efforts to support their new favorite bug.


Isabel summed up the experience for the group as they talked over their notes and facts last week when she grinned and said, “We’re learning stuff I never even knew!”


That sort of enthusiasm might make a lady beetle smile, as well as a North Dakota House Committee.