Insects for organic gardens: Ladybirds

by Lala

Organic gardeners in South Africa are so lucky to have excellent biodiversity in rural and urban gardens. If one is really dedicated to going organic in the garden, it is possible to manage pests using allies from nature, like predatory insects, to keep ornamental and food crops healthy.

Today I’m sharing pictures I’ve taken of ladybirds (or ladybugs to our American friends). The ladybird in the featured image was patrolling the unopened flowers on one of my fennel plants. I was so lucky to catch a picture of this one with the Mickey Mouse pattern. I have never seen one like that before or since. It reminded me of story books and nursery rhymes. Do you remember the slightly grim children’s nursery rhyme?

Ladybird, ladybird fly away home,
Your house is on fire and your children are gone,
All except one,
And her name is Ann,
She hid under the baking pan.

Kiddies rhymes aside, the ladybirds from the insect family Coccinellidae are beneficial insects for our gardens, as they feed on aphids that sap the tender growing shoots of roses, herbs and fruit trees. South Africa has native species of ladybirds that we should encourage to do their work in our gardens. Allowing beneficial insects to feed on harmful insects, work the soil, pollinate our plants and so on, not only helps gardeners to avoid using poisons but also minimizes the run off of garden chemicals into our rivers and water supply.

Mickey Mouse ladybird 2

So how does one encourage insect allies to thrive in the garden?
– Plant lots of indigenous plants
– Plant flowering plants, be they edibke or ornamental to encourage pollinators to visit
– Don’t keep a sterile garden or landscape, without places for insects to shelter. Look up how to create or where to source insect hotels if your garden is too small to include natural nooks and crannies for insects.

Insect hotel
Above: Insect hotel picture, by Wamedu, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

However in recent years, an invasive Asian species of ladybird has been displacing the native species. The Harlequin ladybird Harmonia axyridis also feeds on aphids but it becomes a pest as it feeds on other, beneficial insects, including our local ladybirds. This invasive species has a laundry list of harmful and unpleasant habits:

– It has been known to bite humans;
– It emits a staining, foul smelling liquid when disturbed;
– It carries a parasite to which it is immune, which infects other lady bugs; and
– It is also harmful to soft fruit such as grapes, and the taste of wine made from such grapes is also affected.

You can “spot” the Harmonia axyridis (if you’ll excuse the pun) by looking for an M or W shaped black marking on its head, depending on which direction you are looking at the bug.

This one in the final picture, is a good guy. If I spot a Harmonia a, I’ll certainly take a snap and update the post.


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