ITHACA, N.Y. — New York state’s official insect, the nine-spotted ladybug, is making a comeback in a fourth-floor laboratory on Cornell University’s campus.
Once extremely common in New York, the nine-spotted became rare over the last 40 years and was even thought to be extinct, said Leslie Allee, a Cornell entomologist.
Allee and another Cornell entomologist, John Losey, formed the Lost Ladybug Project in 2000 to investigate why the nine-spotted and two other ladybug species that were once common in North America had become so rare so fast.
Ladybugs may have an adorable name and look pretty cute, but they also have an important job to do: They eat other insects.
"If we didn’t have ladybugs we would need to use much higher levels of pesticides," Allee said. "So not only are they saving us money and saving crops, but they are also contributing to human health by reducing the level of pesticides that are needed."
Combining research with citizen science, the project uses photos and actual ladybugs submitted by people across the country to map where certain ladybug species are found, study differences between them and breed them. So far, 13,370 photos of ladybugs have been contributed by people around the country and Canada.
But no contribution was more significant than last July when project volunteer Peter Priolo organized a group search in Amagansett on Long Island, N.Y. Priolo spotted a nine-spot in a patch of sunflowers on an organic farm. It was the first one found in New York in 30 years and just the second found on the East Coast in the last 40 years, Allee said.
"This completely shifted our research data because it wasn’t just one, it was a nice-sized population," Allee said.
Members of the lab in Ithaca headed to Amagansett to collect a bunch of the ladybugs. Now, there are about 100 nine-spotted ladybugs living in plastic containers in the lab. With a steady diet of aphids, housed in a climate-controlled room connected to the lab, the population should grow by 25 percent every three to four weeks. Along with Allee and Losey, undergraduate and graduate students work in the lab feeding the ladybugs, collecting data and cleaning the plastic homes.
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RIO BRANCO, Brazil — Edmar Araújo still remembers the awe.
As he cleared trees on his family’s land decades ago near Rio Branco, an outpost in the far western reaches of the Brazilian Amazon, a series of deep earthen avenues carved into the soil came into focus.
“These lines were too perfect not to have been made by man,” said Mr. Araújo, a 62-year-old cattleman. “The only explanation I had was that they must have been trenches for the war against the Bolivians.”
But these were no foxholes, at least not for any conflict waged here at the dawn of the 20th century. According to stunning archaeological discoveries here in recent years, the earthworks on Mr. Araújo’s land and hundreds like them nearby are much, much older — potentially upending the conventional understanding of the world’s largest tropical.
The deforestation that has stripped the Amazon since the 1970s has also exposed a long-hidden secret lurking underneath thick rain forest: flawlessly designed geometric shapes spanning hundreds of yards in diameter.
Alceu Ranzi, a Brazilian scholar who helped discover the squares, octagons, circles, rectangles and ovals that make up the land carvings, said these geoglyphs found on deforested land were as significant as the famous Nazca lines, the enigmatic animal symbols visible from the air in southern Peru.
“What impressed me the most about these geoglyphs was their geometric precision, and how they emerged from forest we had all been taught was untouched except by a few nomadic tribes,” said Mr. Ranzi, a paleontologist who first saw the geoglyphs in the 1970s and, years later, surveyed them by plane.
For some scholars of human history in Amazonia, the geoglyphs in the Brazilian state of Acre and other archaeological sites suggest that the forests of the western Amazon, previously considered uninhabitable for sophisticated societies partly because of the quality of their soils, may not have been as “Edenic” as some environmentalists contend.
Instead of being pristine forests, barely inhabited by people, parts of the Amazon may have been home for centuries to large populations numbering well into the thousands and living in dozens of towns connected by road networks, explains the American writer Charles C. Mann. In fact, according to Mr. Mann, the British explorer Percy Fawcett vanished on his 1925 quest to find the lost “City of Z” in the Xingu, one area with such urban settlements.
In addition to parts of the Amazon being “much more thickly populated than previously thought,” Mr. Mann, the author of “1491,” a groundbreaking book about the Americas before the arrival of Columbus, said, “these people purposefully modified their environment in long-lasting ways.”