Insect Year in Review 2021

Observing the diversity of life that coexists in one place is one of the rewards of visiting the same natural area over a long period of time. My garden not only offers myself and passersby such an observatory. It’s also a laboratory in which I can research how insects engage with their environment – both biotic and abiotic – and imagine, design, and create habitat to better provide for their needs.

The Front Garden, November 2021

I use iNaturalist to document the diversity of life in my garden. Although I only posted my first iNaturalist Observation in 2017, my garden Observations now span more than a decade. As of this year, I’ve documented over 400 insect species making use of my garden.

iNaturalist Observations · Flatbush Gardener - Top 25 Species - 2021-12-31

This biodiversity, and my documentation of it, is intentional. And although all of this is by design, all I can do is uncover the latent urban biodiversity in and around my garden. Each new species I find is a surprise to me.

Native Plants

As I explained in last year’s Home of the Wild, native plants have been a significant focus of my gardening since we bought our home and I started the current garden in 2005. I’m always researching and experimenting with new species. And, like any avid gardener, I’m always killing things off, too.

I do my best to track my acquisitions, and failed plantings, in a spreadsheet. I categorize the species by whether they are native to the five counties of New York City, native to the NYC region – e.g.: within two counties – or are some other species native to eastern North America.

This chart summarizes the increase in native plant diversity in my garden over the years. Stacked columns, plotted against the left axis, show the number of species I acquired each year: blue for NYC-native, red for NYC-regional, and green for eastern U.S. native plant species. The large undated bar on the left represents plants I brought with me from prior gardens, or for which I’ve lost track of when or how I got them. The lines, ploted against the right axis, show the total number of species: blue for NYC-native plant species, and green for everything else.

Native Plants in my Garden by Year - 2021-12-31

2014 stands out as an exceptional year for plant acquisitions. That was my first year visiting the Native Plants in the Landscape Conference in Millserville, Pennsylvania. It has an enormous accompanying native plant sale with vendors from all over the mid-Atlantic, of which I took full advantage.

I maintain a Wish List of plants I want to try to grow in my garden. (Anyone know of a NYC-regional source for dwarf prairie willow, Salix occidentalis?!) The past few years I have targeted species for their ecological value in my garden:

  • Fill in plant families that are missing, or under-represented, in my garden, such as Apiaceae, e.g.: Zizia aurea.
  • Extend the flowering season, especially early in the year when native plant blooms are scarce. For example: Packera is the earliest-blooming Asteraceae I’ve found, so I’m trying to establish that in my garden.
  • Grow more plants to support specialist flower visitors, such as bees.

As of this year, I’m growing nearly 300 species of native plants, over 200 of which are native to New York City. With that increase in plant diversity, there’s been an increase in insect diversity (though habitat needs more than having the right plants).

Insect Species

Most of the insects that have visited my garden over the past decade fall into one of six groups:

  1. Diptera, flies: 103 species
  2. Wasps. i.e.: other Hymenoptera, excluding bees and ants: 70 species
  3. Coleoptera, beetles: 57 species
  4. Epifamily Anthophila, bees: 55 species
  5. Lepidoptera, butterflies, moths, and skippers: 55 species
  6. Hemiptera, bugs: 43 species

That’s where things stand today. But this didn’t happen all at once. This chart shows how I’ve accumulated species records in my garden for each of these groups over time. We can see that the slope of the lines increased sharply over the past three years, from 2019 through 2021.

Insects in my Garden - Cumulative Species at the end of each Year by Taxonomic Group - 2021-12-31

It’s a little easier to see which taxa contributed most to the increases if we look instead at just the new species, instead of the total number of species. This stacked column chart shows the number of new species I’ve found each year in my garden, for each of my six focus taxa. Again, the last three years stand out as being responsible for most of the increase.

Insects in my Garden - New Species each Year by Taxonomic Group - 2021-12-31

The color codes of the stacked column segments are the same as the lines in the previous chart to make it easier to draw comparisons between the two:

  1. I’ve seen most of the fly species in just the past two years.
  2. It’s the same for the wasp species.
  3. Beetles saw a spike in new species observed in 2017 and again in 2020. Otherwise, a fairly steady uncovering of new species each year.
  4. Bees have seen a remarkably steady discovery of new species over the years. The first few years found lots of new species. More recent years not so much. 
  5. Butterflies, moths, and skippers have also shown up mostly over the past three years.
  6. Most of the bug species were found during the three year span from 2018-2020. Not so much this past year.

I believe that at least some of these increases reflect success in creating habitat for diverse insect species. But my observing behaviors have not been consistent over the years. Am I seeing more species just because I’m spending more time looking for them? And — if so — how much observation do I need to do to be confident I’m adequately sampling my garden?

Insect Observations

I ramped up my Observations the past two years – 2020 & 2021 – to increase my contributions to two iNaturalist Projects:

As mentioned above, I wrote about the first Project, and the history of my garden as insect habitat on my blog last year. ESNPS was originally scheduled to run only three years, from 2018 through 2020. Of course, the pandemic changed those plans; they decided to extend the iNaturalist portion another year, into 2021.

By concentrating on these two efforts, I increased my Observations in my own garden by a factor of 8. This year, I also invested in better macro equipment. So I was spending a lot more time in my garden, and was able to capture many more individuals with photographs good enough for identification.

Insects in my Garden - Observations per Year by Taxonomic Group - Chart

The Empire State Native Pollinator Survey includes bees and Syrphidae, flower and hover flies, among its focal taxa. Although my increased observation found more of everything, bees and flies took up a greater proportion of the total observations.

How many observations do I need to make to have high confidence I have found most of the species present in my garden? This chart compares the number of species observed against the number of observations for the four most diverse taxa: flies, wasps, bees, and beetles. I’ve added labels for the two most recent years, to highlight that not only did they have the most observations, they are also the years I found the most species.

Insects in my Garden - Number of Species by Number of Observations - Chart

Last year was not a pace of observation I can sustain indefinitely. There’s a lot of effort in taking high-quality, identifiable macro photographs of insects in the garden to uploading them as verifiable observatinos in iNaturalist. Some days it took most of my waking hours, spread over multiple days, just to process all the photographs from a single day of observation.

My iNaturalist activity the past year was artificial, driven by the gamification offered by the two Projects in which I was actively “competing”. But this past year gave me a strong foundation for continuing to make effective observations. I look forward to being surprised by future discoveries in my garden.

Related Content

Hot Sheets Habitat, 2021-11-19
Documenting Insect-Plant Interactions, 2021-10-29
Home of the Wild, 2020-05-13


City Nature Challenge 2018

Viola sororia, common blue violet, in the front yard, April 2018
The “weedy” remnants of my front lawn, where Viola sororia, common blue violet, has taken charge. Easily overlooked, it seeds itself readily without any help from me (or any other gardener). Yet this species is native to New York City. It’s one of my iNaturalist observations from my garden for this year’s City Nature Challenge.

Today, Sunday, April 29th, is day 3 of the global City Nature Challenge, which continues into tomorrow. Building on the explosive popularity of iNaturalist as a platform for observations, this gamified bioblitz pits cities against each other, to see which can identify more taxa of living species in a 96-hour period.

NYC is currently is 6th place globally, and 4th nationally. There are still plenty of opportunities to join special events organized for New York City, with events in 4 of our 5 boroughs today, and more tomorrow.

I wasn’t able to take part in yesterday’s festivities. This weekend, I have to get my garden ready for this season’s garden tours. Armed with only my phone, I kept an eye out for anything I might see, uncover, or unearth. I was rewarded.

I came up with 16 observations yesterday. In addition to Viola sororia introduced at the top of the post, I observed:

And not a vertebrate among them. There were plenty of birds, and the occasional squirrel, in the garden. I wouldn’t have been able to get close enough with my phone to any of them to get a decent photo.

Related Content


Hempstead Plains, Long Island’s Remnant Prairie

Updated 2013-09-05: CORRECTION – The white-flowering plant is Eupatorium hyssopifolium, Hyssop-leaf Throughwort, not E. perfoliatum, Common Boneset, as I misidentified it.

At a glance – say, highway speed – this may appear to be yet another old-field meadow, biding its time before it transitions into shrubland and eventually forest. This is Hempstead Plains, one of several mature grasslands on Long Island, and the only true prairie east of the Appalachian Mountains.

Hempstead Plains
Hempstead Plains on the grounds of Nassau Community College in East Garden City, Nassau County, NY. The white-flowering plants are Eupatorium hyssopifolium, Hyssop-leaf Throughwort.

On Sunday, August 25, I joined three other native plant lovers for a whirlwind tour of Hempstead Plains. We had only an hour; I could have spent several hours there. For me, this was a pilgrimage. I spent most of my childhood on Long Island.

Our guide was Betsy Gulotta, Conservation Project Manager of the Friends of Hempstead Plains, Department of Biology, Nassau Community College, on whose grounds this remnant stands. Here Betsy points out Apocynum cannabinum, Indian Hemp, at the start of our visit.
/Apocynum cannabinum/, Dogbane, Indian Hemp, Hempstead Plains

A Brief Natural History of Hempstead Plains

New York’s Long Island comprises four counties; from east to West they are Suffolk, Nassau, Queens, and Kings (aka Brooklyn). If you look down from space, and maybe squint a bit, Long Island resembles a fish: Brooklyn is the face, Queens is the head and gills, and Nassau and Suffolk are the body and tail.

The fish shape of Long Island arises from two ridges, running roughly east-west. The ridges stand out as light yellow to white in this Digital Elevation Model (DEM) map of Long Island. I’ve highlighted the location of Hempstead Plains in Nassau County, right about where the fish’s pectoral fins would be.Digitial Elevation Map (DEM) of Long Island, showing location of Hempstead PlainsMap: Dr. J. Bret Pennington, Department of Geology, Hofstra University

These ridges are terminal moraines: deposits of sand, gravel and rock left behind as the Wisconsin glaciation made its last stand, then retreated, 20,000-19,000 years ago. Long Island is part of the Outer Lands, the archipelago formed by these moraines, that extends to Cape Cod.

South of the moraines are outwash plains, laced with streams and rivers leading to the bays of Long Island’s southern shores. Hempstead Plains once spanned the westernmost extent of these plains, bounded on the west and north by the northern Harbor Hills Moraine, and on the east by the Ronkonkoma Moraine, where it abuts the Harbor Hills Moraine. This map, from a U.S Fish & Wildlife Service survey of grasslands habitats on Long Island, shows the estimated original extent of Hempstead Plains prior to European colonization, based on soil surveys and historical accounts.
Map, Long Island Grasslands

Why Hempstead Plains is Special

Even if no more of this land were taken up in farms, the continued growth of New York City is bound to cover it all with houses sooner or later, and it behooves scientists to make an exhaustive study of the region before the opportunity is gone forever.
The Hempstead Plains: A Natural Prairie on Long Island, Roland M. Harper, 1911

The existence and persistence of this prairie has yet to be completely explained.

There’s evidence of periodic fire disturbance, whether natural or man-made, even prior to European colonization. (Today, they mow to keep invasive species in check.) But the pine barrens that once extended east of here are also adapted to fire. Why prairie, not pine barrens, here?

The soil here is nothing like the deep topsoils of midwestern prairies. Most of Long Island is a glacial deposit of sand and gravel. Perhaps that balances out the relatively high rainfall we get here. Then why wasn’t there more prairie on Long Island?

Hempstead Plains shares another characteristic with arid and semi-arid lands, including prairie: biological soil crust. During our visit, there were a few places where the lichen soil crust was visible. Where it’s disturbed, as in this photo, you can see the sandy, gravelly underlying soil.
Lichen Soil Crust, Hempstead Plains

With such an unusual confluence of conditions, Hempstead Plains is home to several species that are locally or globally rare and threatened. During our visit, we were privileged to see Agalinis acuta, Sandplain Gerardia, in bud.
Flower Buds, /Agalinis acuta/, Sandplain Gerardia, Hempstead Plains

Back to our little troupe; here we are closely examining a specimen of Baptisia tinctoria, Blue Indigo. We remarked on how different the Hempstead Plains Baptisia looks from horticultural varieties, even of the same species.
Examining /Baptisia tinctoria/ in the Hempstead Plains

Wild areas such as Hempstead Plains provide critical reservoirs of seeds for conservation and restoration efforts. Local ecotypes of native plants are adapted to local conditions. They’ve co-evolved with other organisms in their environment, and support more wildlife than cultivars. Their populations exhibit diversity that disappears when we select and propagate plants for our purposes, such as “garden value.”

Local ecotypes are rarely available commercially. For example: several of the plants offered at June’s Long Island Native Plant Initiative Plant Sale were propagated by the Greenbelt Native Plant Center from seed collected at Hempstead Plains. Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s elimination of field work threatens such regional conservation efforts.

The Hempstead Plains is the last remnant of native prairie grassland that once covered 40,000 acres of central Nassau County. Today, as a result of commercial development only a few acres remain. The site is considered highly ecologically and historically significant. The Hempstead Plains supports populations of federally endangered and globally rare plants among its 250 different kinds of vegetation as well as several plant species that are now considered rare in New York State. It represents one of the most rapidly vanishing habitats in the world, along with scores of birds, butterflies, and other animals that are vanishing with it.
About the Plains, Friends of Hempstead Plains


Here are some of the plants we met during our visit. First, some characteristic tall-grass prairie species.

Andropogon gerardii, Big Bluestem
Andropogon gerardii, Big Bluestem, Hempstead Plains

Panicum virgatum, Switchgrass
/Panicum virgatum/, Switchgrass, Hempstead Plains

Sorghastrum nutans, Indian Grass
/Sorghastrum nutans/, Indian Grass, Hempstead Plains

And a handful of other, smaller grasses. There are 35-40 species of grasses, native and non-native, at Hempstead Plains.

Dichanthelium clandestinum, Deer-Tongue Grass (in the center of the weeds)
/Dichanthelium clandestinum/, Deer-Tongue Grass, Hempstead Plains

Eragrostic spectabilis, Purple Lovegrass
Eragrostic spectabilis, Purple Lovegrass, Hempstead Plains

Schizachyrium scoparium, Little Bluestem
/Schizachyrium scoparium/, Little Bluestem, Hempstead Plains

Here are some more conventional “wildflowers.”

Eupatorium hyssopifolium, Hyssop-leaf Throughwort
/Eupatorium hyssopifolium/, Hyssop-leaf Thoroughwort, Hempstead Plains

Euthamia caroliniana/, Slender Goldentop, Flat-top Goldenrod
/Euthamia caroliniana/, Slender Goldentop, Flat-top Goldenrod, Hempstead Plains

Visiting Hempstead Plains

The site is not open to the public except for scheduled guided tours. Plants aren’t labelled – it’s a wild area, not a botanic garden – so you’ll want a knowledgable guide, anyway! Check the Activities page on the Friends of Hempstead Plains web site for their calendar. They have regularly scheduled tours on Friday afternoons, and volunteer days on Saturday mornings, into November.

Getting there is confusing. It’s really easy to miss the turnoff. I circled the entire campus of Nassau Community College before I was able to get back on approach to Perimeter Road, where the parking area is located. I could have used a navigator.

They’re working on a new Interpretive Center, scheduled to be open in 2014. The building site is a corner of the property that was already less than pristine. Nevertheless, they’re disturbing the soil as little as possible. The composting toilet will be an above-ground model, instead of one that requires excavation. The building will have a green roof populated with plants propagated from the site.
Future Site, Hempstead Plains Interpretive Center

I look forward to a return visit.

Related Content

Flickr photo set from my visit
Long Island Native Plant Initiative Plant Sale 2013
All my Native Plants blog posts
My Native Plants page

Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Slash and Burn “Campaign for the 21st Century”, 2013-08-23


Friends of Hempstead Plains
Hempstead Plains Grassland, New York Natural Heritage Program
Wikipedia: Hempstead Plains

Saving Bits of Nassau’s Original Prairie, Barbara Delatiner, New York Times, 2003-06-22
An urban nature reserve takes shape on the Diana Center’s green roof (Video), Hilary Callahan, Barnard College News, 2011-08-10 (This Project uses plants propagated by the Greenbelt Native Plant Center from Hempstead Plains seed stock)

Long Island Native Grass Initiative, Nassau County Soil & Water Conservation District
Coastal Grasslands (PDF), Long Island Sound Habitat Restoration Initiative, February 2003
Long Island Grasslands, Significant Habitats and Habitat Complexes of the New York Bight Watershed, 1996-1997, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Long Island Botanical Society
Long Island Native Plant Initiative

Digital Elevation Model (DEM) Maps of Long Island, Dr. J. Bret Pennington, Department of Geology, Hofstra University
Geology of Long Island, Garvies Point Museum and Preserve

An Introduction to Biological Soil Crusts,

Historical References:
The Vegetation History of Hempstead Plains (PDF), Richard Stalter and Wayne Seyfert, St. John’s University, Proceedings of the 11th North American Prairie Conference, 1989 (Hosted at the Digital Commons, University of Nebraska, Lincoln)
The Hempstead Plains: A Natural Prairie on Long Island, Roland M. Harper, Bulletin of the American Geographical Society , Vol. 43, No. 5 (1911), pp. 351-360 (An edited version was republished in Torreya, Volume 12, 1912)
Soil Survey of the Long Island area of New York (PDF), by Jay A. Bonsteel and Party, Field Operations of the Bureau of Soils, 1903 (Hosted at New York Online Soil Survey Manuscripts, Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA)

News: IUCN Releases 2007 Red List of Endangered Species

Blog Widow John has a hard time watching any nature shows. We go “awwww” for the first 45 minutes at cute furry, feathery, scaly critters. Then they bring you down with “But time is running out …”

I hope he doesn’t read this.

Gland, Switzerland, 12 September, 2007, World Conservation Union (IUCN) – Life on Earth is disappearing fast and will continue to do so unless urgent action is taken, according to the 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
– IUCN Press Release, September 12: Extinction Crisis Escalates

One in four mammals, one in eight birds, one third of all amphibians and 70% of the world’s assessed plants on the 2007 IUCN Red List are in jeopardy.

There are now 41,415 species on the IUCN Red List and 16,306 of them are threatened with extinction, up from 16,118 last year. The total number of extinct species has reached 785 and a further 65 are only found in captivity or in cultivation.

o The number of threatened species is increasing across almost all the major taxonomic groups.
o Most threatened birds, mammals and amphibians are located on the tropical continents – the regions that contain the tropical broadleaf forests which are believed to harbour the majority of the Earth’s terrestrial and freshwater species.
o Of the countries assessed, Australia, Brazil, China and Mexico hold particularly large numbers of threatened species.
o Estimates vary greatly, but current extinction rates are at least 100-1,000 times higher than natural background rates.
o The vast majority of extinctions since 1500 AD have occurred on oceanic islands, but over the last 20 years, continental extinctions have become as common as island extinctions.

There are now 12,043 plants on the IUCN Red List, with 8,447 listed as threatened. The Woolly-stalked Begonia (Begonia eiromischa) is the only species to have been declared extinct this year. This Malaysian herb is only known from collections made in 1886 and 1898 on Penang Island. Extensive searches of nearby forests have failed to reveal any specimens in the last 100 years.

The Wild Apricot (Armeniaca vulgaris), from central Asia, has been assessed and added to the IUCN Red List for the first time, classified as Endangered. The species is a direct ancestor of plants that are widely cultivated in many countries around the world, but its population is dwindling as it loses habitat to tourist developments and is exploited for wood, food and genetic material.


IUCN 2007 Red List Home Page
Fact Sheet

Letter to the NY Times, Science section

[Updated 2006.09.14 20:41 EDT: Added Why I Wrote the Letter. Minor corrections.]

I wrote a letter last Wednesday to the New York Times in response to an interview with ornithologist Joseph M. Forshaw, a world expert on parrots, in last week’s Science section, “A Passion for Parrots and the Fight to Save Them in the Wild”. They published an edited version of it (under my “real” name”) today. Here it is in its entirety:

Monk parrots are now established in 14 states and spreading north in New York. In their native ranges, they are sometimes serious agricultural pests of fruit crops. We will see what economic damage they cause here as their numbers expand. We don’t know how much environmental damage they’ve already caused by competing with and displacing native species.

As the ornithologist Joseph M. Forshaw noted admiringly, “Parrots are such wonderful generalists.” This is a common trait of invasive species, including other generalists that New Yorkers are all too familiar with: starlings, pigeons, rats and roaches. Our admiration of these birds should not blind us to their potential impact.

I’m proud and excited about this. This is only the second time in my life I’ve had a letter published in a newspaper. (The first was a letter I wrote to Newsday when I was 16 years old in opposition to the Shoreham nuclear power plant on Long Island. I wrote a letter to NPR several weeks ago. They were interested in it, but I don’t know if that ever aired.)

I’ll be coming back and updating this entry with the back-story about why I wrote the letter, and what I learned about writing letters!

Why I Wrote the Letter

The article, published in last Tuesday’s New York Times, was an interview with ornithologist Joseph M. Forshaw. Forshaw spoke about his experiences with parrots and humans’ relationships with them all over the world, and the dangers they face from exploitation and habitat destruction.

The photos accompanying the article showed Monk Parrots from Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery. I already knew why those photos were there. Forshaw had accompanied Steve Baldwin on one of his “Parrot Safaris”, and Baldwin had blogged about it on his blog site, Brooklyn Parrots:

I recently had the pleasure of meeting an amazing Australian naturalist … His name is Dr. Joseph Forshaw and he’s widely regarded as the world’s foremost authority on parrots. I had the honor of serving as his “guide” when he came to see the wild parrots of Brooklyn. … The New York Times wrote up a nice story on Dr. Forshaw … I am glad to say that there are some great shots of the “Brooklyn Boids!”

The problem was, the photos accompanying the article in this way associated an introduced species with the important issue of conserving parrots in the wild in their native habitats. The Times identified the parrots as “feral monk parrots.” A caption to one of the photos identified them as “nonnative New Yorkers,” but provided no further explanation.

Feral” is incorrect to describe these populations. Neither the species nor the individuals are domestic parrots “escaped” into the wild: they are breeding and reproducing in the wild. So I wrote the letter hoping to address, and correct, a misleading absence of information about their status here.


Related posts

My other posts on Parrots and Invasive species.


The letter as published

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.”



Web Resource: New York Metropolitan Flora Project (NYMF)

Updated, 2013-08-25: Corrected links.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden‘s New York Metropolitan Flora Project (NYMF) documents the distribution of woody plant species among 25 counties in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut within a 50-mile radius around New York City. Tools available online include:

While most of the botanical community concentrates on tracking the threats to biodiversity in the tropics, scientists at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden are undertaking the most comprehensive study ever of the plant biodiversity in metropolitan New York. Studying the vegetation changes in highly populated areas is critical to understanding the future of life in our rapidly urbanizing world. …
Understanding the urban landscape is critical in our rapidly urbanizing world. Findings of BBG’s Metropolitan Flora Project serve as vital references for those involved in environmental efforts, from preserving rare plants, to planning parks and greenways, to repairing degraded habitats, to designing home gardens in which native plant communities are preserved or restored.


Brooklyn Botanic Garden: New York Metropolitan Flora Project

Article, Fall 2005: The Changing Flora of the New York Metropolitan Region

The authors compare past distribution data from historical records, and current data from Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s New York Metropolitan Flora Project to determine changes in distribution over the past century. They further compare these changes between native and introduced species within the same genus, such as Celastrus scandens, American bittersweet (native) and Celastrus orbiculata (or C. orbiculata), Oriental bittersweet (introduced, and invasive), or Lonicera sempervirens, Trumpet honeysuckle (native) and Lonicera japonica, Japanese honeysuckle (introduced, and invasive).

We statistically analyzed 100 years of herbarium specimen data for woody plants in the New York metropolitan region in order to measure the floristic changes of this area. Change Index values were computed for 224 of the region’s 556 woody species to provide a specific measure of whether these species are expanding, contracting, or stable. The results show that, in general, nonnative invasive species are spreading rapidly in the region, while native species are in slight decline.
The Changing Flora of the New York Metropolitan Region


The Changing Flora of the New York Metropolitan Region, Urban Habitats, Volume 3, Number 1, Fall 2005, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 1000 Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11225