Pied Beauty

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Ladybugs Make Me Uneasy

I just don't know about ladybugs.  I've heard a lot about them as natural predators and I guess Earth Day is as good a day as any to confess that I have deep misgivings about that.  I don't sell the cute little easy-to-merchandise bags at my garden center -- here's why:

Ladybug gives me the evil eye.
1. I don't think releasing clouds of ladybugs into your garden is an effective way to control soft-bodied insects like aphids.  Yes, I know.  Ladybugs are natural predators of aphids.   I've seen them with my own eyes, stalking aphids like cheetahs after (very slow) gazelles.  But I can't find any evidence that store-bought ladybugs area more effective than just doing nothing.  Want ladybugs to eat your aphids?  Stop spraying broad-spectrum insecticides and just wait awhile.  Native ladybugs will show up and eat until the populations are under control. 

Volunteer soldier in the aphid wars.
2.  I'm not okay with relocating huge populations of ladybugs from one part of the country to another.  Doesn't that seem ill-advised?  If it's not a good idea for red imported fire ants to move northward up the continent, how come it's a good idea for sweet little ladybugs to move south?  Ladybugs are harvested in great numbers from overwintering grounds, where they lie waiting docilely for the return of warm weather.  They're whisked out of the mountains in jet planes.  When they awaken from their slumber, they find themselves in red net bags at the checkout counter of your local garden center. That's if they are, in fact, native ladybugs.  There are reports of imported Asian ladybugs sold commercially as a green alternative to pesticides.

Maybe there's no harm in collecting, selling and releasing ladybugs.  But something about just doesn't seem right.  I'm all for maintaining populations of beneficial and predator insects.  I'd rather they be homegrown, that's all.


  1. I agree. I have lots of native lady bugs that show up when needed and they do a very good job!

  2. One year we bought a bag of ladybugs and released them onto the pyracantha, where they could feast on wall-to-wall aphids.

    Within ten minutes they had all flown away.

  3. I'm with you. I'm all for home grown because the environment may be more natural for the ladybugs to thrive. Sometimes I see lots of them on my chilli plants. If I see them on the tomato plant it's usually the kind that eat leaves. If I see them on my mulberry, it's the yellow one that feeds on mildew. They know when to come, what food is available.

  4. Because the ladybugs are not born here they shouldn't be here? Then,if they do come here what about their offspring? Do they not belong here? Sounds very much like an immigration issue. Maybe it should be addressed at the state and federal level :)

  5. I had wondered, where they found the ladybirds to sell. Had thought they were bred in captivity. If they are removed from their wild home, surely that has an impact on the ecology at the source end? There is not an endless sustainable supply?

    And the horror of dumping defenseless ladybirds into a garden smothered in pesticides? No wonder they fly away in search of Greener pastures. (Oh and Zorra if your pyracantha IS Green, sorry ;¬)

  6. @Victor, it's okay with me if they decide to MOVE here. I just don't think they should be kidnapped and brought here! :) And @Diana, I think there are some insectaries in California where they are experimenting with raising insect predators in captivity but most are "harvested" in the Western US mountains. They overwinter in the mountains and then when it gets warm, they are biologically programmed to fly away to the spring feeding grounds. That's one reason they might not stay in your garden -- they are flying home according to their little ladybug instincts.

  7. A very wise and on target post Elizabeth. Those who import ladybugs to replace the ones killed with pesticides are not gardeners, they're consumers.

  8. I could not agree more with your post. Releasing them does not guarantee they stay, and why would they roost on a pesticide coated leaf. The aphids are smart too, they go right for that tender, hours old, chemical free new growth.

  9. Elizabeth,
    I fully agree with your post and your opinion about selling and releasing of ladybugs.
    Ladybugs occur in my garden the one year more than maybe another but I always have seen them around here for the past 20 years.
    There is no sense in bringing them in from other regions as long as there is still a natural population.

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  11. My ladybug story...
    I was once hiking in the Guadalupe Mountains in West Texas and we were high up on a ridge where nothing was growing above knee level. ALL of the shrubs were covered with lady bugs. Looked like the vegetation was shimmering. Must have been over 100k easily. Kinda creepy and beautiful at the same time.