Ladybugs in Space


For years scientists have known that ladybugs will climb a stalk to capture aphids and aphids will escape by falling off the stalk with the help of gravity. The burning question that still remained was how would the aphid's defense mechanisms work in the absence of gravity? In other words, what would the aphid do to escape the ladybug in space? Finally, in 1999 four ladybugs were sent into space on NASA's space shuttle led by Eileen Collins. Ladybugs and their favorite food, aphids, were sent to zero gravity to study how aphids would get away without the aid of gravity. After completing the mission, it was evident that ladybugs survived and did eat aphids in a microgravity environment. Seems like ladybugs could qualify being astronauts!

Manifested aboard NASA’s STS-93 Mission, the “Ladybugs in Space” experiment probed the influence of microgravity on natural biological relationships— a concept important in considering future space travel and the possible colonization of distant worlds. The experiment allowed students to observe the interaction of ladybugs and aphids on growing wheat plants in orbit and to replicate the experiment in their classroom as controls. Each day during the mission, students and teachers could use the Internet to access new images of the interaction of ladybugs and aphids in space. Students then, along with NASA scientists, analyzed those images utilizing the same counting and measurement techniques used in recording the results of the classroom control experiments. As an integral part of the program curriculum, students studied the results from the experiment and were able to test hypotheses about the effects of microgravity on predator-prey relationships. According to Astronaut Pilot Jeffrey S. Ashby the science that is executed on the space shuttle these days is very complex and very difficult to understand for someone with my background of flying. One of the experiments that I do understand well, and is also very interesting, is an experiment that involves aphids and ladybugs. We are taking a small container with some leaves and aphids, and the ladybugs that are their prime predator. I'm told that the ladybugs on Earth will climb up a stalk to capture the aphids, and the aphids will use gravity to assist them to fall off of the leaf to escape from the ladybug. The question is, how will these defense mechanisms work in the absence of gravity, and what will happen to the relationship between predator and prey? One of the things that extra time has allowed us to do is to come up with names for the four ladybugs that we have. I think they have been very appropriately named after The Beatles: John, Paul, Ringo, and George. We're taking these ladybugs up and we're going to release them and see what they do.