Biological control is the management of pests and their damage by the beneficial action of parasites (parasitoids), pathogens, and predators. These beneficial organisms, collectively, are named natural enemies.
Conserving (or protecting) and releasing natural enemies are important components of integrated pest management (IPM). In most situations, employing practices that conserve natural enemies is more effective, and less expensive and time consuming, than purchasing and releasing them.
Learn about the specific situations where purchasing and releasing parasites and predators can increase the effectiveness of biological control. Before purchasing natural enemies, consult the University of California (UC) IPM Pest Management Guidelines for that crop to learn whether UC research has shown that releasing them is effective. Some natural enemies on the market have never been demonstrated to effectively control any agricultural pest in California.
Obtaining Natural Enemies
Natural enemies can be purchased directly from various producers (companies that rear them) and suppliers (companies that purchase from producers and repackage and resell them). Some sources of parasites and predators are members of the Association of Natural Biocontrol Producers (ANBP). All ANBP members formally agree to a code of ethics and standardized methods.
Natural enemies purchased by users are commonly delivered via shipping services. Purchase parasites and predators only from in-state providers. It is illegal to obtain insects and other arthropods outside of California and carry or have them shipped across state lines without a permit from agricultural officials. Some pest control advisers and pest scouts will procure and release natural enemies as a service for growers.
Methods for Releasing Natural Enemies
Two methods for releasing natural enemies are inoculation and inundation:
- Inoculation—relatively few natural enemies are released. The offspring of these natural enemies provide biological control, not the individuals released.
- Inundation—large numbers of natural enemies are released, often several times over a growing season. The natural enemies released, and possibly their offspring, provide biological control.
The mealybug destroyer is an example of a natural enemy that is only released through inoculation—at relatively low numbers once per year early in the growing season. Aphytis melinus and Trichogramma parasites are released by inundation—at regular intervals over the growing season—to control California red scale and eggs of pest moths, respectively. Both inoculation and inundation can be used with predatory mites, depending on the situation.
Releasing Natural Enemies Effectively
Releasing natural enemies is most likely to be effective in situations where: 1) University of California researchers or other pest management experts have previously demonstrated success and 2) some level of pests and their damage can be tolerated in that crop. Desperate situations are not good opportunities for releasing natural enemies. Pests or their damage may already be too widespread for any release of parasites or predators to prevent economic loss of crop quality or quantity.
Increase the likelihood that natural enemy releases will be effective by
- Accurately identifying the pest and its natural enemies.
- Learning about the biology of the pest and its natural enemies.
- Releasing the appropriate natural enemy life stage and species.
- Releasing when the pests' vulnerable life stage(s) are present and at numbers that can be controlled by natural enemy releases.
Natural enemies are unlikely to be effective when released as if you were applying a pesticide. Instead, anticipate pest problems and begin making releases before pests are too abundant or economic damage is imminent.
- Remember that natural enemies are living organisms that require food, shelter, and water. Protect them from extreme conditions. For example, release them at night or early in the day during hot weather.
- Avoid applying broad-spectrum, residual (persistent) insecticides and miticides, and in some situations certain systemic or other pesticides, before or after releasing natural enemies. When needed, use pesticides selectively. For example, spot spray only where pests are abundant but localized.
Common reasons for the lack of satisfactory biological control after releases include the
- Application of broad-spectrum, residual insecticides, or in some situations systemic or other pesticides, prior to or after a release.
- Incorrect timing of release.
- Release of the wrong natural enemy for the pest situation.
- Release of a natural enemy species that is known to be ineffective.
For information on the use of biological control, see the UC IPM Pest Management Guidelines for your crop and specific pests. Most crops have a table called “Relative Toxicities of Insecticides and Miticides to Natural Enemies and Honey Bees” in the “General Information” section. Use these resources to guide pesticide selection to conserve natural enemies and improve biological pest control.
- Association of Natural Biocontrol Producers, Clovis, CA
- Grower Guide: Quality Assurance of Biocontrol Products (pdf), Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, Ontario
- Insectary Plants
- Natural Enemies Gallery
- Natural Enemies Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Biological Pest Control
- Protecting Natural Enemies and Pollinators
- UC IPM Pest Management Guidelines
this is a repost from:
Photo: Adult Aphytis melinus parasite laying her egg in California red scale, Aonidiella aurantii. Releases are most effective when ants are controlled, dust is minimized, and broad spectrum pesticide applications are avoided. Credit: Jack Kelly Clark, UC IPM Program/h2>/h2>/h2>/h2>
When a biocontrol agent turns on you, it can be painful. Recently a grower called in asking about an insect that had bit him when he picked it up. It caused a fearsome pain and some swelling. This insect is an assassin bug, one of the numerous predators out there that help keep pest insects in control.
Assassin bugs (family Reduviidae) belong to the order Hemiptera and the suborder Heteroptera, the so called “true bugs.” Altogether, nearly 7,000 species of assassin bugs have been described worldwide, of which about 50 are native to California. All Hemiptera have tubular mouthparts with stylets that help them pierce tissues of plants and other creatures. The stylets may also help them suck blood. Indeed, 140 species of assassin bugs are specialized to feed on blood. Spreaders of Chagas disease, these are the kissing bugs, so named because they frequently bite people on the face around the mouth.
Within insects, they are one of the third biggest groups of predators that mostly feed on other insects. This determines where they are found: many species sit on flowers or leafs, where they stalk or ambush their prey. Others like to hide in special microhabitats, for example, underneath the bark of trees, and feed on insects – such as certain beetle and fly larvae – that live under the bark.
In general, the greatest numbers of assassin bugs are found in wet tropical places around the world, but some also live in subtropical, arid and even temperate places. About 50 species are native to California and the majority of them also occur in Southern California. In California, you can find different species of these bugs from the low deserts to fairly high elevations in the Sierras. Altogether, we have fewer than 190 species recorded from the United States and Canada, but as you get into Central and South America, diversity increases and the species numbers go up.
A common species in California is the leafhopper assassin bug that is frequently found even in backyards around Riverside. It is widely distributed from Canada to Central America. Although it is native to this region, it has been introduced and become established in Chile, Greece and Spain. Leafhopper assassin bugs hang out on various plants and are beneficial – as are many other assassin bugs – because they eat pests that can be a nuisance to crops and ornamental plants.
The smallest are about 3 millimeters long. The largest can be about 1.5 inches in length. As other true bugs, assassin bugs have “divided” wings, meaning that the forewings have a thick leathery texture close to the head and a more membranous structure further back. Assassin bugs can be recognized by the shape of the beak that is typically curved and pretty thick and has three segments. The bug uses this beak to grab and hold on to its prey. There is no need to panic when you see an assassin bug, but since they can inflict rather painful bites it is best not to touch them. Kissing bugs are somewhat unusual amongst assassin bugs in having a fairly slender and straight beak. Although their bite is painless in contrast to the bite of other assassin bugs, they are much more dangerous: their saliva can cause allergic reactions, and they can also spread Chagas disease.
The protozoan that causes Chagas disease, Trypanosoma cruzi, is not transmitted when the kissing bug bites you and sucks your blood. Instead, it is transmitted soon after the kissing bug has stopped feeding blood. When a kissing bug bites you, you don't feel anything at first because the bug injects an anesthetic and the bite will only get itchy shortly thereafter. Now, after its blood meal, the kissing bug defecates. The feces contain the Chagas-disease-causing protozoans. When you scratch, you get the feces into the wound and your blood stream. We have three species of endemic kissing bugs in California. Many of the specimens of our commonest species are to be found in Southern California; about 20-35 percent according to one of our studies, are infected with the protozoan and could serve as carriers. Typically, our native kissing bugs blood-feed on woodrats, but will also try to feed on other vertebrates, given the opportunity. In addition, dogs that sleep outdoors could also get infected with Chagas disease by eating the kissing bugs.
Persons who are bitten should wash and apply antiseptic to the site of the bite. Oral analgesics, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, may be useful to reduce the pain. Treatment by a physician is not usually needed, though Caladryl® or topical corticosteroids may help reduce swelling or itching at the site of the bite. As with any insect sting or bite, the victim should seek medical attention immediately if there is any sign of anaphylactic reaction, such as generalized swelling, itching, hives or difficulty breathing.
- Author: Tunnyalee Martin and Cheryl Wilen
Sometimes an invasive pest takes a while to become invasive. The Invasive Species Council of California defines an invasive species as “non-native organisms which cause economic or environmental harm.” So, until a species not originally from the area actually causes harm, it doesn't get the title of invasive.
Take the Italian white snail, also known as the white garden snail. In San Diego, it caused extensive damage to agricultural plants in the early 1900s but was considered eradicated after a massive control program in the 1920s. However, it was found again in San Diego County in the 1980s but it did not damage agricultural crops or gardens. Instead the snails lived off of weeds in neglected fields. Now it appears to be moving slowly from these fields to fruit tree orchards and avocado groves as well as landscapes. The Italian white snail feeds on decaying organic matter and living plants, damaging leaves, flowers, and fruit. Another fear is it being found in cut flower growing areas or in nurseries where it could become an export issue.
White or light tan, the Italian white snail is about the size of a dime or nickel when fully grown. It may or may not have brown markings on the outside of the shell. The inside shell color near the opening is light colored (compared to the milk snail, which looks similar but has a dark inside shell). Italian white snails are most noticeable during the day and when it is hot, because the snails climb up on fence posts, walls, weeds and other vegetation and congregate in large numbers.
In California, the Italian white snail is only officially found in San Diego County. However, it could easily move to new areas because of its small size, which makes it hard to detect, and tendency to attach to many kinds of surfaces such as truck beds. Also, because land snails are hermaphroditic—each snail has both male and female reproductive organs—it only takes any two snails to reproduce!
Californians can help in the fight against invasive species by learning and participating during California Invasive Species Action Week, June 2–10.
Home is where the habitat is: This Earth Day, consider installing insectary plants
—Stephanie Parreira, UC Statewide IPM Program
Help the environment this Earth Day, which falls on Sunday April 22 this year, by installing insectary plants! These plants attract natural enemies such as lady beetles, lacewings, and parasitic wasps. Natural enemies provide biological pest control and can reduce the need for insecticides. Visit the new UC IPM Insectary Plants webpage to learn how to use these plants to your advantage.
The buzz about insectary plants
Biological control, or the use of natural enemies to reduce pests, is an important component of integrated pest management. Fields and orchards may miss out on this control if they do not offer sufficient habitat for natural enemies to thrive. Insectary plants (or insectaries) can change that—they feed and shelter these important insects and make the environment more favorable to them. For instance, sweet alyssum planted near lettuce fields encourages syrphid flies to lay their eggs on crops. More syrphid eggs means more syrphid larvae eating aphids, and perhaps a reduced need for insecticides. Similarly, planting cover crops like buckwheat within vineyards can attract predatory insects, spiders, and parasitic wasps, ultimately keeping leafhoppers and thrips under control.
Flowering insectaries also provide food for bees and other pollinators. There are both greater numbers and more kinds of native bees in fields with an insectary consisting of a row of native shrubs planted along the field edge (called a hedgerow). Native bees also stay in fields with these shrubs longer than they do in fields without them. Therefore, not only do insectaries attract natural enemies, but they can also boost crop pollination and help keep bees healthy.
Insectary plants may attract more pests to your crops, but the benefit is greater than the risk
The possibility of creating more pest problems has been a concern when it comes to installing insectaries. Current research shows that mature hedgerows, in particular, bring more benefits than risks. Hedgerows attract far more natural enemies than insect pests. And despite the fact that birds, rabbits, and mice find refuge in hedgerows, the presence of hedgerows neither increases animal pest problems in the field, nor crop contamination by animal-vectored pathogens. Hedgerow insectaries both benefit wildlife and help to control pests.
How can I install insectary plants?
Visit the Insectary Plants webpage to learn how to establish and manage insectary plants, and determine which types of insectaries may suit your needs and situation. If you need financial assistance to establish insectaries on your farm, consider applying for Conservation Action Plan funds from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) offered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
- Flower flies (Syrphidae) and other biological control agents for aphids in vegetable crops. (PDF)
- Good news for hedgerows: no effects on food safety in the field.
- Hedgerow benefits align with food production and sustainability goals.
- Habitat restoration promotes pollinator persistence and colonization in intensively managed agriculture. (PDF)
- Reducing the abundance of leafhoppers and thrips in a northern California organic vineyard through maintenance of full season floral diversity with summer cover crops.
Date growers in the California deserts have many insects to worry about such as carob moth, hibiscus mealybug, and giant palm borer. Now the industry is under threat from another potential pest, the highly damaging and invasive South American palm weevil (SAPW) (Rhynchophorus palmarum). It was first identified by county and state agriculture officials in 2011 in San Ysidro in San Diego. They made the discovery while looking for a closely related palm weevil, R. vulneratus (originally mis-identified as the notorious red palm weevil, R. ferrugineus), which was found in Laguna Beach and declared eradicated in Jan. 2015.SAPW has been reported on at least 35 plant species in 12 families and is especially economically important on plantation crops such as oil and ornamental palms of which date palm, Phoenix dactylifera, is a recorded host (CABI 2016; Dean 1979; Esser and Meredith 1987). SAPW has killed hundreds of Canary Island date palms (P. canariensis) in Tijuana and parts of San Diego County. These large urban infestations pose a significant risk to the multi-million dollar date palm industries (edible fruit and ornamentals) in the Coachella Valley. Losses of ornamental Canary Island date palms in San Diego County, are probably significant and likely now reaching millions of dollars in killed palms, reduced aesthetics, and increase removal costs.
SAPW has a long rostrum (this is the beetle's snout) and is large often up to 1 ½ inches to 2 inches in length (CDFA 2018). SAPW is now California's biggest weevil species! Inside the palm crown, weevil larvae feed on the meristematic tissue and it is this feeding that kills the palm crown which results in palm death. Larvae pupate inside 3-inch cocoons made of palm fibers. The pupal stage typically lasts two to three weeks. Adult weevils emerge from these protective cocoons, mate, and they are capable of flying significant distances, perhaps as far as 15 miles in a single day, to find new palm hosts. Female weevils use their snout to chew holes in the apical regions of the palm and they lay eggs in these holes. Larvae that hatch from eggs burrow into the palm crown and feed turning the meristem tissue in a fermenting “mash”. Feeding wounds that result in fermenting damage in association with aggregation pheromone released by male weevils create a highly attractive airborne cocktail of odors that weevils fly too. Adult weevils can live for at least 40 days, often longer (CDFA, 2018).
A single infected palm can result in the production of hundreds of weevils and detection of weevil infested palms at the early stages of attack can be difficult to identify because larvae live inside their host trees. The first obvious symptom of attack is a crown that is starting to collapse. Unless palms are treated within systemic insecticides at the early stages of attack, infested palms will ultimately die in as little as 2-3 months once visual symptoms become apparent.
In addition to direct physical damage SAPW inflict via feeding, it is a primary vector of the nematode that causes red ring disease (RRD), a fatal wilt disease of palms. Fortunately, RRD has not yet been detected in SAPWs or palms attacked in San Diego (Hoddle et. al. 2016). Removal of infected trees is necessary not only to remove breeding weevil populations from the environment, but also to minimize risk of harm to people, pets, and property from crown and frond drop.
More information on the SAPW invasion and to report suspect palms please visit this website: http://cisr.ucr.edu/palmarum.html