“C-9 of North America” is a stone sculpture homage to Coccinella Novemnotata, the Nine-Spotted Ladybug, known to biologists as C-9. This particular species of ladybug has a voracious appetite for aphids and is a strong ally with farmers and gardeners against plant-eating insects.
I love gardens and have built many in my teeny yard. My husband, Brian, has an awesome tomato garden every summer. We garden organically and use no pesticides. I learned from my Dad when I was a little kid in upstate New York that ladybugs are the gardeners friend because they eat aphids. New York’s state insect is C-9.
North American Native
Coccinella Novemnotata is native to North America. It is a habitat generalist living in gardens, agricultural fields, parks, forests, grasslands, meadows, prairies, and along rivers. C-9 eats about 60 aphids each day. It also enjoys eating other harmful insects including scales, mealy bugs, leaf hoppers, and mites. Pollen and nectar are also favorites.
The nine-spotted ladybug has nine spots: 4 spots on each wing covering and one big spot in the middle of its “waist”. It has a white mantle across its thorax, and a white spot on the front of its head. (These are obviously not scientific terms for the body parts of a ladybug.)
Gone From New York
C-9 used to live nearly everywhere in North America, especially the northeast. It is the state bug of New York, but hasn’t been seen there since the 1990’s. C-9 populations began to decline in the mid 1980’s, and now they are rarely found in New York. There are a few scattered populations in the mid-west, the western US, and Canada,
C-9 populations shifted west with the migration of agriculture to the open plains of the mid-west. Forests grew in the northeast where there had been farmland in years past. This may be a reason for the decline of C-9 in its historic range.
Another reason for the decline of C-9 populations may be the introduction of non-native species of ladybugs such as the seven-spotted ladybug. Farmers introduced these bugs for pest control in agricultural areas and they may have out-competed C-9 for the same insect prey.
The Lost Ladybug Project
Cornell University has a citizen-science program called the Lost Ladybug Project that encourages people to look for and report sightings of C-9. Cornell, located in Ithaca, New York, developed a healthy and efficient way to raise C-9 ladybugs, and New York residents can buy C-9 larvae for reintroduction in their gardens and farms. Insecticides and mown grass are not healthy for C-9, but soft-bodied insects and plant diversity are superb.
A Stone Puzzle
Making “C-9 of North America” was an adventure in forward and backward thinking. In stone sculpture the first thing must be done first. One can never do the fourth thing first and expect to succeed. The question is: what is the first thing?
In making the bug I always had the end image in mind. Every step of the way I needed to figure out the order in which the puzzle pieces needed to be made. Then the order in which they needed to be assembled.
First, I needed to create a head, thorax, and abdomen. Each segment had at least 2 separate stones that would need to be put together at some point before the 3 segments themselves could be put together.
So, each part of each segment had to be carefully sculpted and then carefully fitted together. I had black stone resin that I mixed with stone dust and pigment as the binding agent to hold the parts of the segments together. Then I used the resin to hold the 3 main segments of head, thorax, and abdomen together. The white marble shapes had to have clean and pristine exact edges. That white edge is what you see when white and black stones are put together with black resin.
Being Continuously Exact
Every step of the bug-making process needed to work exactly right to realize my vision. I am a perfectionist. It was a very long process of making the pieces of each body segment, fitting the pieces together, then fitting the body segments together, then putting on all the spots. It was a long time to try to be perfect.
An Animation Carry-Over
A lot of the magic of Disney Animation was sustaining the illusion of the fantasy world we created in our films. I strive for that same suspension of disbelief in my stone sculpture. I do not want to interrupt the experience of viewing my sculpture with mistakes, or random wonkiness that destroys the magic.
The Spots at Last
The spots came last, after head, thorax, and abdomen were all resined together. I began to marvel at this incredible C-9 who was coming into existence, and I could relax enough to take a few photos.
The Stone Stash
I have several friends who are wonderful stone sculptors but changed their artistic focus to another medium of expression. They asked me if I would like to buy their stone. The stone stash is the beautiful collection of raw stones a sculptor has not yet carved. I love browsing these treasures and taking some of them home to my own stash. Ideas leap out of the air just seeing these special stones. Both of the incredibly opulent alabasters in C-9 of North America came from personal stone stashes.
Color in Stone
The stones in C-9 of North America contain an extraordinary palette of natural colors mixed by the serendipity of nature. This translucent orange alabaster has 4 or 5 shades of orange in it, and little pieces of ancient mud around which the stone formed. (All mud is ancient, but the fact that it is contained within a stone that formed around it over hundreds of millions of years makes those little bits conscious and remarkable.) The green and brown alabaster is very hard and has globs of what became purple quartz (extremely hard) that were mixed into the ancient primordial muck.
I began making this sculpture as a celebration of my gardening partnership with ladybugs. The project grew into a challenge to see if I could do it. This voracious aphid-eater has 9 spots. There are other ladybug species that have only 2 spots, or no spots. There are lots of ladybug species that do not have white markings on their head and thorax. But they are not C-9, the king of the aphid-eaters.
Several years ago I ordered a batch of ladybugs to control the aphids in my garden. It seemed that would be a perfect relationship working with nature.
I released my batch of bugs too early in the evening and most of them were eaten by sparrows and house finches. I believed these little birds only ate seeds, and had already gone to bed. It did not occur to me that there are different species of ladybug, let alone that there might be ladybug species who are not super interested in eating aphids. I did not stop to think where these ladybugs came from. Were they raised in a breeding program like the C-9’s in Cornell’s Lost Ladybug Project, or were they harvested from the wild? If the gardening supply company from whom I bought the ladybugs was raiding wild populations, then they were decimating populations that already had a role to play in the equilibrium of an existing ecosystem.
Balance in Nature
Now I understand a little more about balance in nature. I know some of the questions to ask before I pursue an idea that has broader consequences than just the realm of my studio or the realm of my garden. Cornell University is raising C-9 and offering larvae to enthusiastic gardeners who can foster their larvae and grow their own populations of voracious aphid eaters. The more we learn about the complex web of nature, the more we can foresee problems in nature before we create them.
Postscript: The Aphids
This is probably one of very few sculptures depicting aphids. I carved them because it is fun, and appropriate. Few works of art have a strong thematic reason to include aphids.