Think of them as "the good guys" and "the good girls."
Insects such as lacewings, lady beetles and flower flies.
We're delighted to see that the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation has just published a 250-page book on "Farming with Native Beneficial Insects."
The book advocates the use of beneficial insects to prey upon crop pests, thus "reducing or eliminating the use of pesticides," say co-authors Eric Lee-Mäder, Jennifer Hopwood, Mace Vaughan, Scott Hoffman Black, and Lora Morandin.
"This comprehensive guide describes how to recognize these insects and their habitat, and how to evaluate, design, and improve habitat for them," they write. They offer specific solutions, including native plant field borders, mass insectary plantings, hedgerows, cover crops, buffer strips, beetle banks, and brush piles.
The much-acclaimed book, available for purchase on the Xerces website, is drawing well deserved accolades, including this one from Claire Kremen, professor and co-director of the Berkeley Food Institute, University of California, Berkeley:
“If you are a grower or a backyard gardener, this is a ‘must have.' Readable and filled with gorgeous photos and handy charts, this book provides reams of information about how to get the upper hand on your pest issues with reduced or no pesticide use.”
Xerces officials say the release of Farming with Native Beneficial Insects coincides with its launch of a new nationwide workshop series on natural pest control: the Conservation Biological Control Short Course. The course, to begin in the West and Midwest, "provides farmers, crop consultants, and government farm agency staff with a comprehensive, hands-on training in the natural pest management strategies described in the book. A similar workshop model previously offered by Xerces trained tens of thousands of people in farm communities across the U.S. to conserve bees and restore pollinator habitat, and helped facilitate the restoration of more than 100,000 acres of wildflower habitat for bees."
Speaking of "the good guys" and "the good girls," be sure to read the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Project's website on beneficial insects and natural enemies. The natural enemies include assassin bugs, bigeyed bugs, brown lacewings, convergent lady beetles, damsel bugs, dustywings, syrphid flies and twicestabbed lady beetles.
What is Integrated Pest Management (IPM)? "Integrated pest management uses environmentally sound, yet effective, ways to keep pests from annoying you or damaging plants. IPM programs usually combine several pest control methods for long-term prevention and management of pest problems without harming you, your family, or the environment. Successful IPM begins with correct identification of the pest. Only then can you select the appropriate IPM methods and materials."
UC IPM points out:
- Many pests can be managed without the use of pesticides.
- Use pesticides only if nonchemical controls are ineffective and pests are reaching intolerable levels.
- Use pesticides in combination with the methods described above.
- Choose pesticides carefully. Use the least toxic, most effective material to protect human health and the environment.
- Examples of least toxic insecticides include:
- Oils; and
- Microbials such as Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) and spinosad.
The more we learn about pests and the natural enemies of pests, the oft-heard quote, "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer" rings quite true. The more we learn about our enemies, the less likely they will be able to harm us.
Every insect looks prettier when it lands on a tower of jewels (Echiium wildpretti).
When in full bloom, the 9-to-10-foot-high plant, native to the Canary Islands, blazes with firecracker-red flowers. It's a showstopper.
Syrphid flies, aka flower flies or hover flies, battle with honey bees to sip the sweet nectar.
The flower flies flit in and out of the blossoms, barely visible.
However, these insects suffer from an identity crisis. Their wasp-like coloring wards off predators. That same coloring confuses people, too. The average person on the street--or in a flower bed--thinks they're bees.
They're not. They're flies.
UC Davis-trained entomologist Robert Bugg wrote an excellent pamphlet on flower flies that's downloadable free from the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Titled Flower Flies (Syrphidae) and Other Biological Control Agents (Publication 8285, May 2008), it will help you identity flower flies.
Not bees. Not wasps. Flies.
Cosmos flowers are somewhat like Libras. They balance.
In fact, the word, "cosmos," means "harmony" or "ordered universe" in Greek.
Plant cosmos and you'll soon be enjoying colorful flowers that belong to the Asteraceae family, which also includes sunflowers, daisies and asters. Plant a variety of colors--white, pink, orange, yellow and scarlet--and you'll see why the Spanish missions in Mexico favored cosmos.
They're beautiful and easy to grow.
An added benefit: they attract syrphids, also known as flower flies and hover flies.
Plant cosmos. Attract syrphids. Capture an image of a syrphid on a cosmos.
Caught on the cosmos.
That's what it takes to capture images of syrphids, aka flower or hover flies.
They are oh, so tiny and they move oh, so quickly. As the morning dawns, you wait, camera poised, near their preferred blossoms. You'll need a keen eye and a quick trigger finger--not to mention a good macro lens and a high shutter speed to freeze a moment in time and space.
If you're stealthy and don't startle or shadow them, you can observe them nectaring just inches away from you. This is big game hunting, but with little insects.
And, another frozen moment in time and space.
It's often mistaken for a honey bee.
It's not a honey bee. It's a hover fly or flower fly.
And this one, hovering around the plants last Saturday in the Storer Gardens at the University of California, Davis, looked like a Syrphus opinator to me.
So I asked UC Davis entomologist Robert "Bob" Bugg, who specializes in flower flies (Syrphidae), what it is.
"If I have to be an opinator, I'd opine that you're right," he quipped.
Bugg, who received his doctorate in entomology at UC Davis, does research on the biological control of insect pests, cover crops, and restoration ecology.
If you want to learn more about flower flies, read Dr. Bugg's "Flower Flies (Syrphidae) and Other Biological Control Agents for Aphids in Vegetable Crops" (Publication 8285, May 2008, University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.)