Home Map and Hours Classes and Events Employment

Welcome to Tagawa's Blog

Monday, July 13, 2009

Lovin' the Ladybugs

Gardeners all along the front range are talking about this summer's friendly invasion of ladybugs. I started noticing them on my "volunteer" crop of sunflowers about a month ago. Their numbers have been climbing eversince, and I love to see it!

Whitney Cranshaw, one of the top bug gurus at Colorado State University, says we have our wet spring to thank. All the rain triggered a lot of lush, green growth on our plants. There's nothing aphids love more than tender, succulent leaves and buds. And there's nothing ladybugs love more than aphids. It's all part of the balance that Mother Nature tries to provide when we humans don't get in the way with lots of chemicals, that take out both good bugs and bad.

Quite rightly, children are taught to love and protect ladybugs, also known as "lady beetles." They delight in finding the bright round ladybugs on plants, and recite short poems urging them to "fly away home" to their own children. Maybe it has something to do with the polka dots. Many of the more than seventy varieties of lady beetles in Colorado come with two or more distinct black polka dots on their shiney red body. Polka dots just seem a friendly sort of decoration.

But while we jump to the defense of adult lady beetles, a lot of gardeners would take one look at a ladybug pupa or larva and reach for the insecticide. The early stages of ladybugs look nothing like the charming adults.

Ladybug larva, especially, often look like the voracious predators that they are: very tiny lizard-like creatures with bowed legs and little spiney projections up and down their back. Think of the larva of any insect as its "teenaged" stage. You just can't fill 'em up, which in this case is good. In addition to chowing down on aphids, the different types of lady beetles in Colorado (both larva and adults) thrive on eating mealey bugs, insect eggs, spider mites and scale.

It's well worth getting to know a gardening ally like this in all of its stages and "outfits." Link to the CSU fact sheet on lady beetles and get to know the appearance and habits of these wonderful little insects. http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/insect/05594.html Get the kids involved, too. They're never too young to learn the notion of balance in the natural world.

As long as the aphid population along the Front Range stays high, the number of ladybugs dining on them is likely to do the same. But when the food source starts to decline, the ladybugs will fly off in search of a new banquet. In the meantime, we should take delight and satisfaction in knowing that there's an army of aphid-eating insects right in our own back yard, and do everything we can to make them feel welcome. Hopefully, they'll take the hint, and come back next year.

No comments: