Most of us have grown up seeing cute little ladybugs in children’s books but ladybugs are actually really vicious predators. Even so, ladybugs beetles are not at all harmful to humans, pets, or usually plants, making them ideal for controlling pests in home vegetable gardens.
Ladybugs, also known as ladybirds or ladybug beetles, are some of the best natural predators of garden pests. Ladybug beetles are ideal for keeping aphids and other potential pests that are always found around the garden in smaller numbers under control. They are also good at getting rid of mealybugs, spider mites, and whiteflies that can cause massive damage to your vegetable garden.
Home gardeners are generally very welcoming of ladybugs but not knowing much about their diversity and lifecycle may lead you to mistake immature stages as pests. This makes identifying ladybug eggs and larvae an essential skill for any gardener, and in particular an organic gardener.
Identifying ladybug eggs and ladybug larvae
Ladybugs lay their eggs on the underside of leaves for protection from the weather and other pests. The eggs are pale yellow to bright orange in color, depending on the species, and are laid in clusters.
Once it’s time for the eggs to hatch, surprisingly out will crawl larvae that look more like little crocodiles rather than anything that even remotely resembles a ladybug.
This is because ladybugs go through a process known as complete metamorphosis. This is similar to the lifecycle of butterflies and moths, where the larvae that first emerge from eggs resemble worms rather than a butterfly or moth. Like butterflies, ladybugs also go into a pupal stage, from which the adult emerges.
Ladybug larvae are usually mostly black in color with yellow, orange, or red markings. They have an elongated body structure with six legs located towards the front of the body. This leaves a long tail-like structure towards the back of their body that makes them look like little crocodiles.
Not only are adult ladybugs predators of pest insects but their larvae are almost equally effective predators. The only difference is that adults are better at going after and catching prey because they can fly.
The larvae start eating pest insects just after emerging. The adult often lays its eggs near aphids and other pests, making it easier for the larvae to find prey even though they can crawl around easily. The larvae continue to feed on pests while they shed their skin a couple of times and stop feeding only when they go into the pupal stage.
Attracting ladybugs into your garden
Providing them with an abundance of food
Adult ladybugs eat all sorts of insects when there are no pest insects. Growing any type of flowering plant and keeping a wildflower border near your vegetable garden is ideal for attracting all types of insects into your garden. This in turn will encourage ladybugs to come into and live in your garden because they will have an abundant supply of food.
Not using harsh chemicals
Pesticides and insecticides affect both pests and other creatures that are beneficial for naturally controlling pests. Not using these harsh chemicals, and instead using only organic methods of pest control will make your garden inviting for both ladybugs and all kinds of insects that they eat.
Releasing adults or larvae
Apart from naturally attracting them, you can also release either adult ladybugs or larvae in your garden. You can purchase ladybug adults and larvae or can collect them from a field nearby.
If you are purchasing them, make sure that they are native to your area and that you aren’t introducing any new species that could become invasive after a while. After your release them, you should also make sure that they have enough insects to eat in your garden so that they won’t die off or move away.
Both adult ladybugs and larvae are good at feeding on and controlling garden pests. Knowing what ladybug larvae and eggs look like is an essential skill for gardeners so that you don’t mistake them for pests. Attracting ladybugs into your garden is easy while releasing either adults or larvae is also an option.
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