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.”