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..
The UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology has scheduled a fall open house, the last of the season, at its Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Friday, Oct. 2 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. It's free and open to the public.
The half-acre bee friendly garden is located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus.
The theme is "IPM in the Bee Garden." Participating will be representatives of the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM). Karey Windbiel-Rojas, associate director for Urban and Community IPM/Area IPM Advisor, and Anne Schellman, urban IPM educator, will provide information on pest solutions that are bee friendly, such as non-chemical methods and less toxic methods.
The bee garden was planted in the fall of 2009 under the direction of then interim department chair Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology. At the time, she said: ""The Honey Bee Haven will be a pollinator paradise. It will provide a much needed, year-round food source for our bees at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility. We anticipate it also will be a gathering place to inform and educate the public about bees. We are grateful to Haagen-Dazs for its continued efforts to ensure bee health."
Others who played a key role in the founding and "look" of the garden included the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program, founded and directed by the duo of entomologist/artist Diane Ullman, professor and former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, and self-described "rock artist" Donna Billick, a noted artist. Billick crafted the six-foot long mosaic ceramic sculpture of a worker bee, "Miss Beehaven," that anchors the garden. The art in the garden is the work of their Entomology 1 students and community residents. Extension apiculturist (now emeritus) Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology offered input throughout the conception, design and installation. Davis Boy Scout Derek Tully built the state-of-the-art fence around the garden as his Eagle project. (See more of history here)
New additions include a viable honey bee hive; benches and a shade structure donated by the California Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution; and more bee condos for leafcutter bees and blue orchard bees. The garden is managed by staff director Christine Casey at firstname.lastname@example.org and faculty staff director Elina Niño, Extension apiculturist, at email@example.com. Check out the haven website for a list of plants (both common and scientific names), upcoming events, how to volunteer, how to donate, and other information.