Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Ladybug, Ladybug . . . . . .

A ladybug pupa: something I've never seen before "in the wild!"

On June 7, the morning inspection tour led to this tiny surprise on one of the Poblano pepper leaves. It looked very much like a ladybug larvae, with a rough, corrugated black surface and red markings, but more rounded and compact, without visible legs or mouth parts.

When I gently touched it with my finger, this strange little being reared up from the spot where it had attached itself to the leaf -- a protective mechanism, no doubt. Inside this shell, the mysterious process of metamorphosis was going on. If the process is the same as for butterflies, the larval worm was dissolving into a cellular soup and reassembling itself into the next stage of its life, in this case as a cheerful little red bug.

Voila! A week later, on the morning of June 14, the bug had emerged, pale and as yet immobile, clinging to the wreckage of its pupation shell. By the end of the day it had wandered to the top of the leaf.

This morning, June 15, the ladybug had disappeared from the pepper leaf. I don't know its fate for sure, but hope that this little critter on an aphid-infested stalk of Siberian kale, only a few feet away, is the same bug. If so, it managed to size up and acquire its characteristic flashy red sheen in about 24 hours.

The ladybug pictured above was photographed earlier this year, March 5, on an arugula plant. I see them everywhere in the garden and am glad for their presence, of course, because I also see the pests they feed on: aphids, white flies, spider mites, etc.

I have occasionally found the larvae, the black alligator-like creatures that are even more voracious. They appear mostly on the tall fennel fronds. I have searched on the undersides of the feathery fennel leaves for evidence of the tiny, elongated golden eggs, without luck. But the eggs are around here somewhere.

There are generations of ladybugs living and dying in the garden, playing their role in the grand scheme of things.

From a gardener's perspective, their role is to eat as many pests as possible. They are so good at this task -- the average ladybug adult consumes perhaps 5000 aphids in its lifetime of one year -- that they are sold in quantity and released by hopeful cultivators. I used to do this, but have learned that they show up on their own eventually if you can manage to wait out a season of infestation. If you want the ladybugs, you have to tolerate some aphids. That's part of the deal. But usually you want the ladybugs because you have the aphids, so it's hard to know which comes first!

I guess what I want is a front row seat on the natural processes going on in my habitat garden, and that requires both pests and predators of pests in reasonable balance.

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