Today's identification tip involves separating two nearly identical lady beetles: the Seven-spotted Lady Beetle, Coccinella septempuncta, introduced from Europe, and the native Nine-spotted Lady Beetle, Coccinella novemnotata. There is widespread speculation that the exotic Seven-spotted ("C-7") has displaced the native Nine-spotted ("C-9"), and indeed the latter species has become noticeably scarce over most of its former range, especially in the eastern U.S., over the last 35 years or so. That is why it is critical to be able to identify C-9 and report sightings to the Lost Ladybug Project.
The most dependable, though subtle, difference between these two species is found on the front edge of the pronotum (top of thorax). In the Seven-spotted Lady Beetle, only the corners, or "lapels" if you will, are white. The remainder of the pronotum is black. In the Nine-spotted Lady Beetle, the entire pronotal "collar" is white, so the front edge of the pronotum is white, from corner to corner.
Meanwhile, the wing cover (elytron) of the Nine-spotted Lady beetle does bear an extra black spot, located near the "shoulder." This spot can, however, be vague or even obsolete. The markings on the pronotum are much more consistent.
The Nine-spotted Lady Beetle is usually slightly smaller than the Seven-spotted, and is more often a creamy orange in contrast to the brighter orange, or red, of C-7. Both species are polished (shiny) in texture, and highly convex or nearly hemispherical in shape.
There is little difference in behavior between these two species. Both are predators of aphids and can be found on plants hosting aphid colonies.
Habitat is not a good way to distinguish these two lady beetles, either. Both occur in a variety of ecosystems, from vacant lots, yards, gardens, parks, and forest edges to orchards and agricultural fields.
Here in the western U.S., we also have the Transverse Lady Beetle, Coccinella transversoguttata, which resembles C-7 except that the spots on the elytra near the pronotum are connected to form a horizontal black bar between the "shoulders." The Transverse Lady Beetle also appears to be suffering in the wake of C-7's arrival.
Please keep a lookout for the Nine-spotted Lady Beetle where you live and during your travels. The more eyes in the field, the better will be our understanding of the status of this species, which has been the state insect of New York since 1989. Thank you.