As the moon rose, the caterpillar began working on the tomato leaves. She was only a few hours old, and her genetic makeup required she eat and get fat fast to become a moth and stay alive long enough to mate and lay eggs. She munched steadily. Suddenly her antenna picked up a vibration, a change in the air. She froze, but it was too late; Assassin stung! After finishing her off, the Assassin bug moved to another section of the plant. It settled down, blending in perfectly with its surroundings, and quietly waited for its next victim.
Meanwhile, in the pea vines, Lady was making short work of aphids. And Pirate was busy in the fennel destroying insect eggs. The beneficial bugs went about their job as top plant protectors with efficiency and deadliness. The posse worked steadily, capturing, and eating pests. The rising sun signaled the end of their shift. Each went back to their nests, full and satisfied with another successful night’s work.
Annie finished her morning meditation and turned her attention to watering the garden. She noticed insect carcasses.
LJ joined her, “It looks like another busy night of murder and mayhem, courtesy of the protection posse. I don’t see many half-eaten leaves or other signs of infestation.”
Annie shook her head and laughed, “me either. I think it was a good idea to use natural exterminators to protect our veggies instead of chemicals. I know you call them the protection posse, but who are these bugs?”
LJ noticed the bright red shell with black spots. He picked her up, “Here’s a member. This Ladybug is a gardener’s best friend and pests worst enemy. They are natural predators, consuming thousands of aphids during their life cycle. They tend to live longer than other bugs, up to two years, partly because their bright color, which can also be orange and yellow, helps repel the birds, frogs, wasps, and dragonflies that hunt them. The best way to keep ladybugs happy is to plant dill, nettles, fennel, marigolds, yarrow, and calendula.
Other good guys in the garden are Assassin bugs; the name is an umbrella term for about 160 species that belong to the Reduviidae family. They are deadly for bees, flies, caterpillars, and other pests. They will also feed on ladybugs if given the opportunity, so it will be interesting to see how many are still around at the end of the growing season. They range in appearance from black all the way to brightly colored. Assassins, stalk, jab, then inject a deadly toxin in their prey. They can live for several years and are happiest in flower and vegetable gardens.
Pirate bugs are another natural pest controller. They range in color from black to dark purple with white on the tips of their wings. They are tiny, mighty, move fast, and although they are not poisonous to humans, their bite can get your attention. They feast on spider mites, aphids, and thrips. They don’t live long, only about three weeks, they thrive in gardens containing fennel, spearmint, goldenrod, marigolds, cosmos, and caraway.
Look at this guy hovering right here, Annie. It looks like a wasp, but it is a Hoverfly. There are thousands of varieties of this garden protector. Not only are they avid pollinators, the second most important after bees, but they also feast on aphids, scale insects, thrips, and caterpillars. Their bright bands of color help protect them from other predators like birds who think they are wasps that sting. They live on average twelve days and love fragrant gardens with oregano, garlic, chives, sweet alyssum, and buckwheat plants.
The pale green flies with long slender bodies and delicate transparent wings are Lacewings, another beneficial garden pal. There are many different species, and although the adults don’t eat pests, their larvae, known as aphid lions, are insatiable hunters eating insects such as mealybugs, thrips, mites, caterpillars, and leafhoppers. In the right conditions that include access to pollen and nectar from flowers and dill, they will live about four to six weeks.
I read parasitic wasps, which can be black, yellow, or red, are stingless and the most effective insect for killing aphids. Their tiny size is advantageous as a stealth protector of the garden because the mother pierces the pest and deposits her eggs inside them. When the eggs hatch, they feed on the host insect and then cut a hole and escape. You know parasitic wasps are in the garden when you see tiny white eggs on the backs of tomato hornworms, for example. When that happens, the worm has been invaded by the wasp larvae and near death. Parasitic wasps are attracted to water, insects, flower nectar, and gardens with dill, cilantro, parsley, fennel, alyssum, and yarrow.”
Annie mused, “I never thought of our garden as a war zone. Thank god for the protection posse.”
Annie and LJ are a fictional couple. Their storyline promotes healthy eating and earth-friendly practices.