Identifying & Understanding Various Insect Species Makes You a Better Organic Gardener or Farmer
First a painful personal lesson…
Many years ago when we were new gardeners, we didn’t know very much about insects. One day, as we were standing under a willow tree in our backyard, we noticed dozens of small, spiny black and red insects crawling down the tree trunk’s bark.
Yikes! What to do? The insects looked dangerous. Surely, they were some sort of stinging critter that would do harm to us if allowed the opportunity. So, we smashed them with our gloved hands.
A little later when we were back inside, we did some googling. To our horror, we discovered that we’d just killed the larvae of some of the most beneficial predatory insects you can possibly have in your garden: ladybugs. Ugh.
Feeling ashamed and disgusted with ourselves, we decided to create our own “policy” to ensure we never made the same mistake again.
No Action Without Knowledge
We decided that before we ever intentionally killed another insect (or any other critter) in our garden, we’d have to go through the following checklist first:
- We had to know what species it was;
- We had to know what ecological function it served;
- It had to present either a danger to us or our animals, OR it had to present a danger to our plants that would not likely be kept in check by our predatory insects. Examples of pest insects that fall into this category: ticks (although our ducks eat them all now), Squash Vine Borers, and Japanese beetles).
If a pest insect meets all of the three criteria above, then we will eradicate it/them in the most “targeted” way possible, e.g. using an approach that does not harm non-target species. Depending on the pest insect we’re trying to control, the remedy might be catch crops, neem oil, bait traps, or removal by hand.
Not all stink bugs are bad! We were happy to see this Florida Predatory Stink Bug (Euthyrhynchus floridanu) eating one of our worst pest insects, the Japanese Beetle. These predatory #stinkbugs have really neat mouthparts, first spearing their prey before slurping out the insides. Yikes! If you live in the southeast, be sure you know what their nymphs look like so you don’t accidentally kill them (they’re black with red markings). Unlike most other predatory insects, the nymphs and the adults will sometimes attack larger prey in groups. #PredatoryInsects #PredatoryStinkbug #BeneficialInsects #nature #ecosystems #Organic #Gardening #permaculture #GrowJourney
Learn, Grow, Repeat
One of the best benefits of being an organic gardener is that you get to become a backyard scientist: observing, studying, and perhaps even running small-scaled experiments. This can also be an enriching educational experience for everyone in your family—especially for children.
We have some pumpkins running through a #canna patch so we pulled back a couple leaves and made this discovery: apparently our immature pumpkin has made friends with a tree #frog. 😛 #OddCouples #amphibians #cucurbits #nature #organic #garden #GrowJourney A photo posted by Tyrant Farms (@tyrantfarms) on
Learning biology and ecology from a book is great; seeing it work firsthand provides a profoundly engrossing experience, especially when you get to eat the lesson plan!
With almost all of our pest insects, we usually take a very hands-off approach. Why? Because each year, the number and variety of beneficial insect, amphibian, reptile, and bird species on our property has grown exponentially. If we took away all the prey, the predators would have nothing to eat.
It’s amazing to watch our lizards, dragonflies, lacewings, praying mantises, kingbirds, etc. work their magic. As the biodiversity in the system increases, its resilience improves in lockstep—the same thing is true in the soil as well. This means we do less work and get more food production. All species benefit from this approach, not just us.
Almost all the common insecticides that you’ll find at lawn & garden centers might effectively kill the pest insect you’re going after, but they’ll also indiscriminately kill your beneficial insects as well (pollinators and predators). This means you end up causing more problems than the single problem you’re trying to solve, and you starting yourself running on the “chemical treadmill”.
The native #bees sure love our #sunflowers, which are actually a plant native to North America. The gorgeous green #bee in the foreground is a female #halictid bee named Agapostemon splendens. Check out all the pollen she’s carrying on her tibia and femur! #NativeBees #NativePollinators #SaveTheBees #organicgardening #permaculture #GrowJourney A photo posted by Tyrant Farms (@tyrantfarms) on
What Do Ladybug Larvae Look Like?
OK, now that we’ve expounded on our painful learning experience and hopefully provided you with a philosophy and an approach you can use in your own garden, it’s time to show you what those terrifying, scary, little ladybug larvae (monsters!) look like. Here are a few photos from our garden:
#Organic #Gardening tip: unless you know what the insect is and what function it serves, never kill it. This critter may look scary but it’s actually a voracious pest-eating #ladybug larvae. It’s gobbling up aphids on our asparagus. #organicgardening #pestcontrol #BeneficialInsects #permaculture #ecology #GrowJourney
Great example of #permaculture vs #agriculture principles: the tiny insects in this photo are #aphids, a common sap-sucking insect that are often sprayed with poison. We waited a couple days and now our rosa rugosa bushes have new inhabitants: lady bugs and lady bug larvae (the larger black and orange insects). These little critters can each chow down on a few hundred aphids per day. Important to remember: without pest insects you can’t have predator insects. Work with #nature vs constantly fight against nature. #organicgardening #ecosystem #GrowJourney A photo posted by Tyrant Farms (@tyrantfarms) on
What Do Ladybug Eggs Look Like?
Ladybug larvae don’t just magically appear. They come from eggs. So what do ladybug eggs look like? Here you go:
Where to Buy Ladybug Larvae
Need to jump start the ladybug population in your garden? Yes, you can actually buy ladybug larvae! Click here or click the link below. This is an Amazon affiliate link to a quality provider, but we wanted to let you know we’ll make a small percentage of profit if you purchase ladybugs using this link—which means we might earn a few pennies for writing this article. Woohoo!
Back to Your Garden…
Next time you’re in your garden and you see ladybug eggs or larvae, you can smile and know that you’ve got an army of friends coming to help you. The same is true for many other species that co-inhabit your garden with you.
Instead of treating symptoms with bad solutions like we did the first time we saw ladybug larvae, please learn to think holistically. As you continue to improve your whole system over time, you’ll be surprised by how few symptoms you have to “fix.”