Friday, March 11, 2011

March of the Beetles

I like to have edible plants in the house. We have mint, basil and a Thai chili plant at the moment. We had oregano, but it didn't make it through the long sunless months. One of the drawbacks to having edible plants year round is that it means we also have aphids year round. All winter long I have been keeping them in check by spending a few minutes each morning squishing them or wiping them off the plants, but it is impossible to eradicate them this way.

So you can imagine my excitement and disappointment when on my way to work this morning I saw that wonderful eater of aphids, a ladybug, squished on the sidewalk. This is practically the first outdoor insect I have seen this spring, and just the one I wanted to catch and put on my plants, but it had been stepped upon.

Knowing that the ladybugs were waking from hibernation, I kept an eye out for them on the rest of my walk, and at lunch time. I collected a dozen, and am prepared to offer advice on the finding of ladybugs on cold spring days. Look for them climbing out of dense vegetation (evergreen shrubs, tall dead grass) upon which the sun is shining in places sheltered from the cold wind. If you see one, look closely for more nearby, as they tend to overwinter in groups. Ladybugs are poisonous to most things that might want to eat them, and will come out of cover into the sun even when they are too cold and slow to fly or escape, and are therefore easy to catch. Generally a slightly moist finger touched to the wing covers will adhere enough to lift the beetle into a jar without risk of squishing them. Once you have handled them they will arouse quickly, and attempt to climb to the top of whatever container you have but them in. Apply them liberally to plants infested with aphids, whiteflies or other pests, and expect to find them crawling around your apartment.

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