Friday, April 22, 2005

Not Just Beetle Juice

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April 22, 2005
Not Just Beetle Juice

This year my yard will be aphid free, as I have a good supply of ladybugs, (aphid terminators), which I plan on letting loose in an organized schedule to eradicate the aphids in our maple trees and stop the constant sticking drippings they are leaving on my vehicles, not to mention the leaves curling up and falling while its still only springtime. I’m sure they will take care of the garden too, and the roses, although it will be my first experience using ladybugs as a biological pesticide.
From what I’ve read, ladybugs, ladybirds or ladybeetles, are one of the most voracious of the “beneficial insects” at least for aphid control. Another on the list of aphid eaters is the lacewing, but they are much more expensive and they only eat aphids while they are in their larvae stage, while ladybugs eat aphids while in their larvae and adult stages. They say the adult female will eat up to 75 aphids a day, while the adult male will eat 40 a day, and the larvae will eat 50 or 60.
Ladybugs have quite a history going back to medieval days in Europe when they seemed to have suddenly appeared in large numbers through-out the fields and vines, which were infested with parasitic bugs. They were appreciated so much that they were given the title “ lady bird,” in reference to the Virgin Mary, as it was thought that they were sent down from heaven to save the crops. From then on they were thought of as being a sign of good luck. It was in America the name ladybird was changed to ladybug by immigrants, while the name given them by the Cherokee meant “great beloved woman.” But don’t get the wrong idea, ladybugs are not all female. The males are a little bit smaller than the females as a general rule, and the reference to them being ladies couldn’t be more wrong, as they are very prolific and non-monogamous. In some urban areas of Europe, 90 to 95 percent of the ladybird population has been found to carry a sexually transmitted disease which fortunately is not fatal to the insect. In non-urban areas the disease only affects 2 percent of the population.
There are several species of ladybugs in California. The Vedalia beetle species was imported to save the failing citrus industry from cottony cushion scale. The mealy bug destroyer, ( red-yellow-black) was imported in 1928 from Australia. The Convergent ladybug, (Hippodamia Convergens,) or “Classic California” ladybug is native to California and the pacific coast and have been shipped nationally for the last 100 years. These are the type I plan on releasing, but there are many other native and non-native species in California.
One of the main complaints I have read about using ladybugs for pest management is that a large portion of them have the habit of wandering down to the neighbors yard instead of staying to finish the job before leaving, so releasing them must be well thought out and prepared, for the best results.
First you need them to establish themselves by creating an environment that will make them want to stay, called a farmscape. A farmscape can be easy or complex, depending on which and how diverse the beneficial insects are that you are trying to attract. It is basically providing certain plants that give food, “pollen and nectar,” year round by placing them in strategic locations for the selected predator . They are usually placed around the perimeter of the area you are working to provide nutrients after the aphids are gone while they are waiting for more aphids to show up. While ladybugs are feeding, they will travel no more than 50 feet after their prey, and the farmscape plants could be planted in pots so they could be moved around. The particular farmscape plants that attract the classic California ladybug are, wild carrot, fennel, cilantro, and dill. It is also a good idea to leave some of those weeds in the ground, which add to the farmscape environment. You should also know what and when your good bugs like to eat. The Classic California ladybug is mainly a carnivore, enjoying soft bodied insects pests. Aphids, mites, moth eggs, etc…. but they will also eat nectar, pollen, and if there are no pest to be found, they will eat some fruits, if the outer skin is damaged and the inner juices of the fruit is exposed. They will even turn to cannibalism, eating their own eggs when hungry. They do most of their feeding in the spring and summer months after the temperature stabilizes to between 65 and 85 degrees. They will eat less during the higher temperatures. In the late fall most will fly to the mountains and cluster together in large groups preparing for winter hibernation, when they can go for months without eating, living on their stored body fat.
I’ve gathered a list from many sources concerning the releasing of ladybugs to get optimal results, in case you would like to try this in your own yard or garden.
(1) Do not use any pesticides before releasing.
(2) Release a few before planting garden.
(3) Cool them down to between 33 and 40 degrees by leaving them in the refrigerator for a few minutes. (Do not freeze.)
(4) Spray them with a light mist of sugar/water mixture, 10% sugar to make their wings sticky so they can not fly without cleaning their wings, which should help keep them from flying till they get established.
(5) If you can, release them when the temperature is below 50 degrees.
(6) You may release a few before the aphids appear as a preventative measure. In that case you might want to feed them before release with a product called wheast. (A ladybug food, available where you purchase the ladybugs.)
(7) Study the garden and find shady areas that do not get any direct sunlight during the day. You do not want them to fly when released.
(8) Do not release in direct sunlight!
(9) Water down the area first and try to keep the humidity high after that.
(10) Do not release them all at once, but several times a week to maintain a biological balance. “They can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks.”
(11) Wait until late evening when the sun is down.
(12) On some trees you may want to apply “Tanglefoot”, to keep ants from protecting the aphids. (Some ants will fight to protect the aphids for the honeydew they produce.)
(13) The idea is to get the ladybugs to reproduce and lay eggs. As soon as you see the little alligator shaped larvae crawling around, “start looking after about 10 days after release,” you should have ladybugs for the rest of the season.
(14) Supplement garden with wheast if needed when aphids are gone to help keep your bugs happy.
Classic California ladybugs, (Hippodamia Convergens,) are available at some nurseries, biological pest suppliers, or Email me at for info on finding ladybugs or to see how my bug adventure is progressing.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your site taught me a lot abot lady bugs

6:16 AM  
Blogger boonyville/gene said...

so how did the lady bugs do? I bought lacewings and trichogramma to try this year from there info on the lace wings says they will hatch soon and as it is 3/5/06 and to early to plant the garden it may of been a mistake, however still doing more surfing on that if you have any info please pass along. gene

6:20 AM  

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