Unleash the Adorable Killer Nanobots!
There’s a small room in my house where I grow tropical plants. There are lights and fans, the door stays closed, and on a good day it’s 80 degrees and moist as a jungle. The plants love it. Unfortunately, so do pests that thrive in that environment.
It’s embarrassing to admit, but I’ve had an aphid problem in that room for months. Aphids are supposedly the easiest pest to get rid of. Most sites suggest simply wiping them off. I’m here to tell you, that didn’t work. Neither did a fine selection of soaps, horticultural oils, and other sprays marketed to get rid of aphids.
I dreamed of building some sort of tiny killer nanobots to crawl every last leaf and destroy all those aphids one by one. Then I realized that nature already created such a thing: Ladybugs.
Ladybugs are a kind of beetle (Coccinellids) that feast on soft insects like aphids, but do not eat plants (at least not the ones that are sold as biological controls). I figured it was worth a try, so I picked up a batch of them at the local hardware store’s garden department and unleashed them in my jungle.
Here are some things I learned in the process.
- Ladybugs are kept in a refrigerator in the store, which slows them down so much you think they’re dead. They’re not. Once they come to room temperature, they start zooming around.
- Also, when they warm up, they really warm up. Prepare to see ladybug sex. Lots of ladybug sex.
- As instructed, I misted all the plants with water before I released them, which gives them something to drink and stick to. I also released them at night (ladybugs don’t fly at night, so they stay put).
- These suckers like to explore. We taped up the heating vent in the room so that they couldn’t get out, but they soon discovered that there was more than enough space to crawl under the door. We found them wandering around the house until we put a town down to block the gap.
- The good news is that ladybugs are the one kind of bug people are generally delighted to see. When a houseguest pointed to the coffee table and asked, “Is that a ladybug?” I casually scooped it up, deposited it in a nearby houseplant, and said, “Yup!”
- Get used to the sight of dead ladybugs. They will die. You will have to sweep them up. Try not to get too attached.
- My wife is a saint for letting me release hundreds of bugs in the house on purpose. (But I knew that already.)
The ladybugs went to town on the local aphid population. It’s been a month now and there are still a few ladybugs wandering around and not an aphid to be found.
According to the packaging, all that ladybug sex I witnessed should lead to the females laying eggs after a few weeks. When the larva emerge, they look like tiny alligators, and they come out hungry. Each is said to be able to eat 200 aphids. I haven’t seen any eggs or tiny alligators yet, which is probably for the best, since I think all the aphids are already gone. There’ll be more. There’s always more.
And while ladybugs are excellent aphid eliminators, they do nothing for another pest that likes that room: spider mites. Fortunately, there’s a predatory bug for them, too.
Should you try it? Maybe. If you can put all the bug-afflicted plants in one room and seal it off for a couple weeks, or if you have a dedicated greenhouse, go for it. Worst case scenario, you wind up with a ladybug visiting you while you garden, which is sure to bring a smile. But I wouldn’t recommend you give them free roaming rights to your house. One ladybug is adorable. Hundreds of them is actually kind of terrifying.