Mention lady birds and most people get all warm and fuzzy. Not me, I get anxious. Sure, I have fond childhood memories of collecting them in the backyard too, and I know that most types of ladybirds do lots of good in the organic garden… eating aphids and such… but not the one I’m talking about. This particular ladybird, the 28-spotted potato ladybird (Epilachna vigintioctopunctata) is a troublesome leaf eater with a seemingly insatiable appetite. I know this, because I’ve watched it destroy many of my prized crops over the years.
Tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, chillies, cucumbers, zucchini, melons and pumpkins… all of these important organic crops are like a backyard smorgasbord for these sweet little charlatans of the insect world, and once they start feeding, they don’t stop. And because their living conditions are so good, they procreate like there’s no tomorrow, giving birth to lots of happy hungry babies… and crickey, can these little critters eat! Before you know it, there is very little foliage left for plants to photosynthesise and create the energy they so desperately need... so the plants suffer seriously as a result.
So what can we organic gardeners do about them? Well, if you spot one, squash it. You can almost guarantee they’re out there now, and they’re easy to identify… 7-10 mm in length, bright orange in colour with 28 black spots (if you can be bothered to count them). And don’t forget the babies or ‘pupa’ as we call them. They are similar in size but look nothing like the adults - bright yellow in colour with lots of spikey hairs and a much softer body, which just means they are easier to squash!
Once bitten twice shy they say… but I am never shy about squashing these cute but nasty little pests. I’ve made it a part of my daily summer ritual to search and squash as many as I can… and since I have, my organic crops have never looked back.
First published: January 2012