U.S. Firefly Atlas

The Xerces Society, in collaboration with the IUCN SSC Firefly Specialist Group and New Mexico BioPark Society, has launched the Firefly Atlas project:

Lucidota atra, black firefly, found on milkweed along my driveway, 2022-07-05

The Firefly Atlas is a collaborative effort to better understand and conserve the diversity of fireflies in North America. Launched in 2022, the project aims to advance our collective understanding of firefly species’ distributions, phenology, and habitat associations, as well as to identify threats to their populations.

Although the Atlas tracks all species described from the US and Canada, we are currently prioritizing efforts for a subset of 13 threatened and data deficient species found in three focal regions of the US: the Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, and Southwest. These priority regions were chosen based upon having a high number of threatened species and/or a high number of data deficient species. – What is the Firefly Atlas?

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Pyrrhalta viburni, viburnum leaf beetle (VLB)

Pyrrhalta viburni, the viburnum leaf beetle, or VLB for short, is native to Europe. It was first discovered in North America barely two decades ago, in Maine in 1994. Both larvae and adults eat leaves. Our native Viburnum species are extremely vulnerable; they aren’t adapted to this species of leaf beetle. With ample food supply, and no native predators to control its spread, VLB has rapidly expanded its range since.

The viburnum leaf beetle, Pyrrhalta viburni (Paykull), is an invasive, non-native beetle that first appeared in New York along Lake Ontario in 1996, and has steadily spread across the state and down the Hudson Valley. It is a voracious eater that can defoliate viburnum shrubs entirely. Plants may die after two or three years of heavy infestation, particularly when larvae strip plants after hatching out in spring followed by heavy adult feeding later in summer.
Viburnum leaf beetle invading NYC?, Cornell Horticulture Blog, May 2009

It’s been in New York City less than a decade. In Brooklyn, I first observed the damage on Viburnum dentatum, arrowwood, at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in May 2012. Last year, I found it in Prospect Park; by May, arrowwoods there were shredded.
Pyrrhalta viburni, Viburnum leaf beetle, on Viburnum dentatum, arrowwood, Prospect Park, Brooklyn, May 2014
Pyrrhalta viburni, Viburnum leaf beetle, on Viburnum dentatum, arrowwood, Prospect Park, Brooklyn, May 2014
Pyrrhalta viburni, Viburnum leaf beetle, on Viburnum dentatum, arrowwood, Prospect Park, Brooklyn, May 2014

I’ve seen light damage on my large arrowwood for the past few years. I’ve suspected VLB, but never observed it. I’m ~1/2 mile south of Prospect Lake in Prospect Park, so it should be here. This Spring, I finally found it.

Pyrrhalta viburni, viburnum leaf beetle (VLB), 3rd instar larva, feeding on Viburnum dentatum, arrowwood, from my backyard, May 2015
Pyrrhalta viburni, viburnum leaf beetle (VLB), 3rd instar larva, feeding on Viburnum dentatum, arrowwood, from my backyard, May 2015

Despite the fact I’ve made no special efforts to control or contain it, VLB has not gotten out of control on my single shrub. I have some hypotheses about why that might be.


My specimen is a cultivar, sold as ‘Blue Muffin.’ I suspect the plants in Prospect Park are local ecotypes planted as part of the woodlands restorations. When we select cultivars for horticultural characteristics, we select away from ecological value. It could be that this cultivar has some natural resistance to VLB.


The shredded arrowwoods in Prospect Park were growing in forest shade. Mine is growing in nearly full sun. The little damage I see on my shrub occurs only on the lower leaves; upper leaves don’t appear affected. From what I’ve read, this makes a difference, though the reasons are unclear.


My specimen has never fruited well. I suspect this is due to the lack of arrowwoods in other gardens nearby. This low density could affect the ability of VLB to establish a viable population that can explode to the levels I’ve observed in Prospect Park.


I specialize in gardening with native plants, and have lots of habitat in my smallish urban garden. There are likely many native predators existing in the landscape that can predate on VLB. I suspect the prevalence of natural predators in my garden have kept them in check the past few years.

By planting a wide variety of native plants, especially plants from the Asteraceae and Apiaceae, we can provide shelter and food for these insects, keeping them around for when VLB emerges.

Related Content

Viburnum Leaf Beetle reaches New York City, 2009-05-28
Viburnum dentatum, Arrowwood, 2009-04-20


Viburnum leaf beetle invading NYC?, Cornell Horticulture Blog, 2009-05-22

Predation by Podisus maculiventris (Say) (Hemiptera: Pentatomidae) on Viburnum Leaf Beetle, Pyrrhalta viburni (Paykull) (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae), Under Laboratory and Field Conditions, Gaylord Desurmont , Paul A. Weston, Environmental Entomology, Volume 37, Issue 5, pp. 1241 – 1251

Viburnum leaf beetle, Department of Horticulture, Cornell University
Viburnum Leaf Beetle – Pyrrhalta viburni, Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry

Coleomegilla usurps Coccinella as New York State Insect

[Update, 2006.08.15: Corrected the date to 2006 from 2005!]

News, June 15, 2006, Albany, NY: The New York State Assembly bill A06247 passed and delivered to the Senate:

PURPOSE OR GENERAL IDEA OF BILL : Alters terminology of the state insect.

JUSTIFICATION : To change the official state insect from the Nine-spotted lady beetle (Coccinella novemnotata) species of the lady bug, which is no longer found in New York State, to another species of Lady Bug, the Spotted lady bug (Coleomegilla maculata).



EFFECTIVE DATE : Immediately.

Here’s how the New York Times reported it today, June 23:

The state’s official insect, a nine-spotted ladybug, would no longer fly in that role: it is extinct in New York State. So legislators took a break from bickering over health care spending and property taxes in the waning days of the session and found common ground on the issue of designating a new state insect, making it the pink spotted ladybug instead.
A Few Things Lawmakers Can Agree On [requires subscription for viewing]

I think the correct term would be “extirpated” in New York State. Regardless, the article goes on to quote Nancy Calhoun, Republican, sponsor of the bill:

… “I know it’s not earth-shattering,” said the assemblywoman, Nancy Calhoun, who represents parts of Orange and Rockland Counties.

Ms. Calhoun says she was just trying to right a wrong. Lawmakers first adopted the state’s official bug in 1989, but the nine-spotted ladybug had already become extinct in the state. Ms. Calhoun was alerted to the error by a reporter a couple of years ago and she submitted a bill to rectify the matter.

“Why do we want to get something like this wrong?” Ms. Calhoun said. “It would be like having a dinosaur as our state reptile.” …

It’s an interesting question. In fact, New York State has a state fossil, the Sea Scorpion, which is an extinct relative of the Horseshoe Crab, which is not. So intentionally selecting an extinct state symbol is not out of the question. The comparison is not accurate, however. Dinosaurs were extinct before we got onto the scene; C. novemnotata was once common. A better question is: How did New York State get to have a once-native-but-no-longer-resident state insect?

The back-story can be found in the Fall 2003 issue of Wings, the magazine of the Xerces Society:

In 1980, fifth grader Kristina Savoca sent a letter – along with a petition bearing 152 signatures – to New York State Assemblyman Robert C. Wertz, urging him to introduce legislation designating the lady beetle as the official state insect. The proposal languished for a number of years, passing in the Assembly but not being considered in the Senate. Approval finally came in 1989, after Cornell University entomologists suggested that Wertz propose the nine-spotted lady beetle (Coccinella novemnotata, usually abbreviated to C-9) as the state insect because it was one of the most important native lady beetles and was believed to be common. The red-and-black insect is also widely recognizable to the public as a ““ladybug.””

Among the several dozen species of lady beetles in New York state, C-9 was the clear choice in 1989 because it had been -— and was assumed still to be -— the most common lady beetle in New York and the northeastern United States. It ranged across the United States and through southern Canada. However, several recent [as of 2003] surveys in New York and the Northeast in general have not recovered any individuals of C-9 … It is now clear that C-9 occupies only a tiny fraction of its former range in North America.

Many entomologists suspect that introduced lady beetles, such as the seven-spot (Coccinella septempunctata) and Asian multi-colored (Harmonia axyridis) lady beetles, played a role in C-9’’s disappearance. … Qualitatively, several native lady beetle species have declined as first the seven-spot and then the Asian multi-colored lady beetles established and rose to prominence. Introduced species may also replace each other, as the Asian multi-colored lady beetle’s arrival seems to have led to the seven-spot lady beetle becoming increasingly rare.

The cause for concern is that introduced species may fill the same ecological niche native species once occupied. [Emphasis added] This is problematic because many of these species are from Asia and are not adapted to the harsh Northeastern winters or climatic irregularities like droughts. Unlike native lady beetles, which overwinter in hedgerows and in the duff of trees, the introduced coccinellids take to people’s garages and homes, often by the thousands, creating a considerable nuisance. More important, introduced species may out-compete native species for food and replace them

We can hope that the decline of C-9 and several other conspicuous coccinellids will lead to a greater focus on this valuable family. To call attention to their plight, listing the species as ““endangered” in New York state and ““threatened” at the national levels is warranted. This is a task that the Xerces Society will be undertaking in the coming months. Other native lady beetles have similar habitat requirements and probably suffer from similar limiting factors, so efforts to survey for and conserve C-9 should prove useful for a suite of species. What began as a simple letter from a student to a state assemblyman has resulted in a greater awareness of the threats to apparently ubiquitous creatures often assumed to be safe from the pressures of environmental change.
The Decline of C-9 – New York’s State Insect, By Erin J. Stephens and John E. Losey

Here’s how we can “right the wrong”: instead of introducing a bill to gloss over the extirpation of a species, let’s reintroduce and restore C. novemnotata to New York State. Then our state insect would be a symbol to aspire to, and not simply an “error.”



Insect Profile: Apion (Rhopalapion) longirostre, Hollyhock weevil

Apion (Rhopalapion) longirostre, Hollyhock weevil, on, of all things, my hollyhocks in the sunny border at Garden #4 in Flatbush. The upper photo shows a single male, I believe, on a leaf. The lower photo shows a pair in their typical posture, ie: mating. The female has her (even longer) snout buried in the flower bud.
Photos taken: June 4, 2006

The taxonomy of Apion (Rhopalapion) longirostre, common name Hollyhock weevil or (sometimes) Black vine weevil, is confusing. I’ve seen it listed as being in the Family Brentidae, the straight snout weevils, the Apionidae or Apioninae, and the Curculionidae. Whatever! They are in the order Coleoptera, the beetles.

The genus Apion seem to generally have long snouts. Their antenna are jointed and located halfway along the snout. A. longirostre is distinguished from other Apion species by its orange legs.

Their native range of A. longirostre is in Eurasia, originally limited to southern and southeastern Europe and Asia Minor. It has since spread much further afield there. It was first detected in North America in Georgia in 1914. Within fifty years it had spread across the continent.

They deposit their eggs in the ovaries of unopened hollyhock buds. The eggs hatch and the larvae develop within the ovary, eating the seeds. Within the still unopened bud, they pupate and emerge as fully-formed adults, chewing a hole from the inside out. Adults can winter over in the soil. They may also spread via hollyhock seeds.

This is my first encounter with this creature. I didn’t notice them during the first year in this garden, though they were probably already present. The adults are easily spooked. They move constantly. When I approached them with my macro lens, they would hide deep in the buds and under leaves. The photos above were the only two good ones – ie: in focus on the weevils, not the plant – I got out of the series. Oh, and did I mention they mate constantly?

From what I can find out, they seem to be host-specific: they don’t affect any other plants. Many, if not all Apion seem to be host-specific. A. fuscirostre, the Scotch broom seed weevil has even been intentionally introduced as a biological control for Spartium scoparium, Scotch broom. (Other weevil species are serious problems). There also doesn’t seem to be any biological controls for them, whether insect, fungus or what have you. It’s possible that some generalizing insect predator might be effective. All the literature suggests various insecticides, which I refuse to use. I’d rather just not be able to grow hollyhocks, if it comes to that.

Mechanical controls would seem to be the only option. They also tend to drop to the ground when disturbed, so that could be used against them by shaking them out onto some paper or other collector placed under the plant. I had been wondering why some of the hollyhock buds turned brown and papery before they bloomed. Weevils may be why. If so, then removing and destroying the unopened buds may also help control their population. I’ve also seen suggestions to either freeze the seedpods to kill the larvae (which would not affect overwintering adults), or open the seedpods and place them in the sun to drive out the weevils (my weevils were in full sun, so I don’t think that would bother them enough to make a difference).

Note that there is another weevil, Otiorhynchus sulcatus, which also goes by the common name of Black vine weevil. It looks completely different. In particular, it does not have the long snout with antenna; it looks more like a regular beetle. It’s behavior is also different. It does not lay eggs in flower buds; instead, they drop to the ground. Also, it feeds on multiple host plants. It’s much more of a problem than Apion.