A Comprehensive Guide to
Safe Biological Pest Control
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Q: How do ladybugs protect themselves?
A: Nature has uniquely designed a warning system of colors. Red, yellow and black are colors that warn predators that the insect they are about to eat might not be a good lunch choice. The colors can warn of danger such as poisonous, bad taste, or the ability to defend itself against the predators. Colors can also camouflage and warn when there is nothing about the insect that is harmful. Ladybugs can also protect themselves by playing dead. By pulling their legs up "turtle-style", and typically release a small amount of blood from their legs. (This is called reflex bleeding.) The bad smell and the apparent look of death usually deter predators from their small ladybug snack. After the threat of danger has passed, the ladybug will resume its normal activities.
Q: How do insects survive the winter?
A: Insects survive in an inactive state of arrested development known as diapauses. Until diapauses is terminated, eggs do not hatch; nymphs, larvae, and pupae do not go on to the next life stage; and females neither lay eggs nor give birth. Most, but not all, diapauseing insects are inactive. Most protect themselves against freezing temperatures by producing an antifreeze, an alcohol such as glycerol, sorbital, or mannitol. Their low metabolic rate, usually one-tenth or less of that of a non diapausing insect, allows them to feed off their store of body fat, so that they can survive through the long winter.
Q: What is the best way to begin using beneficial insects?
A: First, you have to identify what pest you have. Like going to the doctor - the doctor has to know what is wrong with you (a virus, bacteria, cancer, etc.) before he or she can treat your
problem. It is the same thing with using beneficial insects. Before you bring in a good bug, you have to know what bad bug is causing the problem. You can identify the pest insect by looking it up in books, gardening magazines, the Internet, etc. If you can figure out what kind of insect you have, take it to your Cooperative Extension Office or another local expert. Once you have identified the pest then you can use those same sources to find out which beneficial insects are best to control the pest. How do I put the beneficial insects in the garden? They will probably come with instructions on how to release them, but it will likely involve walking around the garden and shaking the good bugs out of their container. If you release them in the evening or early morning, just after you have watered the garden you will help to keep them in your garden. It is better to release the good bugs in small batches all around the garden than in one big group.
Q: What do I have to do once the good bugs are in my garden?
A: Give them time to work their magic. Chemical pesticides control pests quickly but beneficial insects will not work that fast. Make your new garden friends as happy as you can by providing them with water and shelter. Remember that your good bugs are living creatures - you should never use harmful pesticides while they are in your garden.
Q: Why not spray a pesticide?
A: You may kill the insects that are helping you keep pests in check. Also, insects benefit your garden by pollinating your plants, helping them grow and propagate. Reducing and eliminating exposure to pesticides.
Q: What can you do to protect yourself and your family?
A: Minimize or eliminate the use of chemical pesticides on your lawn and around your house:
Learn to love clover (which will actually make your lawn greener if you leave it alone!); pull dandelions by hand; use preventative measures and least-toxic methods to control lawn and garden pests.
Never use routine preventive spraying. Take exclusion and sanitation measures to avoid pest problems. When they do arise, use least-toxic methods to address them.
Q: How do you make your good bugs feel welcome?
A: Beneficial insects are more likely to remain in your garden if there is a ready food supply. While you can buy many of these predators, it's probably cheaper and more effective to encourage the ones already in your garden. Many beneficial insects need to sip flower nectar to survive. Plan your garden to feed beneficial insects by choosing a variety of plants that will bloom as many months of the year as possible. Here are some things you can do to support your beneficial insect population:
Q: Why Do Ants Farm Aphids?
A: Aphids are bred and reared by ants. The normally carnivorous ants protect, groom, and care for these bugs as we do farm animals. Why are these garden pests so valuable to ants? They want their “milk” an excreted honey like sub stance called honeydew. This may sound odd, but if you consider the ant’s habitat, it makes perfect sense. Food runs out from time to time when you have thousands, sometimes millions, of mouths to feed, so these bugs provide an ant colony with a ready food source. If the colony sets up a few good cowboy ants to tend herds of little ant cattle, there’s a guaranteed supply of food when other pickings get slim. In exchange, the ants protect the insects from other bugs that will eat them. Ants are so protective; they will carry them in their jaws like a mother cat with kittens when rain comes, then carry them back to their plant again afterward. Ants are also known enslavers. Some ant species will take over another colony and make them an offer they can’t refuse. Ownership of the aphids, lice, or scale bugs of the enslaved colony also gets transferred with the hostile takeover.