Can the larvae of lady beetles (aka ladybugs) eat aphids?
Yes, they can. And yes, they do.
We spotted some lady beetle larvae on our yellow roses today and guess what they were doing? Right, eating aphids. Eating lots of aphids.
The larvae look a little like miniature alligators, which is probably why they're often mistaken for pests.
Oooh, what's that weird-looking thing on the roses? It can't be good. Kill it!
Sadly, that's what many people do.
Lady beetles (family Coccinellidae) are beneficial insects that gobble up aphids, mites, scales and other soft-bodied insects. Check out the Quick Tips on the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) website for more information and photos.
And, be sure to attend the 103rd annual UC Davis Picnic Day on Saturday, April 22. It's "open house" throughout the campus. At Briggs Hall, the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and UC IPM will answer your questions about insects (as will scientists at the Bohart Museum of Entomology in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building). (See news story.)
Bugs. Briggs. Bohart. What could be better? Well, youngsters visiting the UC IPM booth at Briggs Hall are in for a special treat: they will be gifted with lady beetles to take home. Watch out, aphids!
Have you ever watched a lady beetle gobble up those pesky aphids? Aphids may look fragile, harmless and sluggish, but wow, can those tiny insects ever suck those juices right out of your budding roses and other plants!
The UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) defines aphids on its website: "Aphids are small, soft-bodied insects with long slender mouthparts that they use to pierce stems, leaves, and other tender plant parts and suck out fluids. Almost every plant has one or more aphid species that occasionally feed on it. Many aphid species are difficult to distinguish from one another; however, management of most aphid species is similar."
"Aphids have soft pear-shaped bodies with long legs and antennae and may be green, yellow, brown, red, or black depending on the species and the plants they feed on," UC IPM says. "A few species appear waxy or woolly due to the secretion of a waxy white or gray substance over their body surface. Most species have a pair of tubelike structures called cornicles projecting backward out of the hind end of their body. The presence of cornicles distinguishes aphids from all other insects."
"Generally adult aphids are wingless, but most species also occur in winged forms, especially when populations are high or during spring and fall. The ability to produce winged individuals provides the pest with a way to disperse to other plants when the quality of the food source deteriorates."
Right. If you look closely, you may see the winged ones. Or see them being devoured.
For lady beetles, this is not about eating just one. it's an all-you-can-eat buffet of hapless prey. It's like the insect version of a robotic vacuum cleaner or a paper shredder of industrial strength. Or the insect version of Joey "Jaws" Chestnut, the Major League eater who reportedly trains by fasting and by stretching his stomach with milk, water and protein supplements.
Lately we've been watching the multicolored Asian lady beetle, Harmonia axyridis, go about its business of eating aphids. It's a predator with a purpose: 50 to 75 aphids a day.
It doesn't need to train.
Katydids did it.
When it comes to the best of the industrial-strength shredding machines, they're it.
The nymphs have been feeding our Iceland poppies, chewing incredible holes in petal after petal, and then looking around for more. They leave behind what looks like shredded cabbage.
But if you catch them early in the morning with the sun lighting them up, they're kind of beautiful with their thin, angular legs; antennae longer than their bodies; and beady looking eyes fixated at you. The nymphs can't fly, so when disturbed, they merely hop away, camouflaged in the vegetation.
"Katydids occasionally become damaging pests in orchards where broad-spectrum pesticides were not applied or are under minimum tillage programs," according to the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program's Pest Note on Katydids. "High numbers of these pests may occur near raisin and wine grape vineyards, where the do no damage to the fruit."
"Nymphs feed on leaves or fruit early in the spring as they climb from the ground to the tree. Katydid nymphs tend to take one bite out of a fruit before moving on to another feeding site. Hence, a few katydids may damage a large number of fruit in a short time. Feeding wounds heal over and enlarge into corky patches as the fruit expands. The most serious damage occurs when katydids feed on young fruit, which become severely distorted as they develop. Nymphs and adults also chew holes in foliage. Smaller nymphs feed in the middle of the leaf, creating small holes, whereas larger nymphs and adults feed on the leaf edge."
See more information by Googling "katydids UC IPM." You'll find information on UC IPM guidelines for katydids on citrus, nectarine, pomegranate, pear, apricot, plum and other crops.
Meanwhile, those katydid nymphs continue to frequent our Iceland poppies. Other dinner guests--uninvited--are showing up, too. Let's make a hole in one! (Or two, or three!) Let's eat! Let's shred!
We're not the only ones "celebrating" the first week of spring. The oleander aphids are doing a happy dance on our milkweed plants. We think they're doing a mixture of the tango, cha-cha-cha, salsa and merengue. Every time we walk past them, we see a population explosion with even more incredible dance moves. In population size, they went from a family reunion to an army of aphids to an international conference. Y'all come.
These are yellow, pear-shaped insects, about 1.5 to 2.6mm long, with black cornicles. They congregate on the tender young shoots and suck the very life out of them.
Now it's our job to suck the very life out of the aphids before the monarch butterflies return. There are many ways to do this. We sometimes pick them off, squishing them between our fingers. Or we invite lady beetles (aka ladybugs) and soldier beetles to pick them off--but sometimes they're not around to accept our invitations.
Actually we prefer to wash their mouths out with soap. Fill a spray bottle with a gallon of water, add a teaspoon of liquid dishwasher and spray away. The aphids are goners. Some folks add a pinch of cayenne pepper for good measure. Probably makes them more lively when they dance the salsa?
Today when we checked our milkweeds, the population had dwindled down to one aphid. Just one. A one-delegate conference with no flashy moves. It takes two to tango.
For information on how to control aphids, check out the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program's website.
For information on rearing monarchs, including recommended ways to rid your milkweed of those pesky aphids, these Facebook pages are quite helpful:
The Beautiful Monarch
Public group administered by Holli Webb Hearn
"The Beautiful Monarch group was created to teach members how to raise and properly care for the monarch butterfly from egg to flying adult along with learning about their predators, diseases and other monarch facts. It is my hope that as a collective group we will help and teach one another along with any new members that join us."
Raising Butterflies and Moths for Conservation (+All Pollinators)
Closed group monitored by Mona L. Miller (apply to join)
"Our focus is the preservation and protection of North American butterflies, moths and pollinators, particularly the Monarch Butterfly.")
The circle of life...
Monarch caterpillars feast on milkweed, their host plant. Oleander aphids feast on the juices of milkweed plants. Lady beetles, better known as ladybugs (but they're beetles, not bugs) feast on the aphids.
The milkweed is the only plant that the monarch caterpillars eat. Oleander aphids, as their name implies, are also commonly found on oleander. And lady beetles not only eat aphids, but soft-bodied insects such as scales, white files, mites, and yes, monarch butterfly eggs.
The UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) says California has some 200 species of lady beetles and that "most are predators both as adults and larvae."
If you've ever watched a lady beetle go through the aphid cafeteria and select the menu (big, little, small, winged, wingless, fast, slow, near, far), it's quite a sight.
One lady beetle can eat 50 aphids a day, scientists say. During its lifetime, that can mean 5000 aphids.
As for the oleander aphids (Aphis nerii), they derive their name from Nerium, the genus name for oleander. Both are the oleander and oleander aphid are reportedly native to the Mediterranean region.
If you have milkweed, you probably have aphids. Oleander aphids. And you probably have lady beetles eating those aphids. And the monarch eggs...
The circle of life..