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January 7, 2009 > Pat Kite's Garden: Ladybug Intervention

Pat Kite's Garden: Ladybug Intervention

Once again, in mid-winter, a large garden center had packets of dying and starving ladybugs up for sale. They sat on a shelf, sun direct, encased in plastic, some wandering around trying to get out, the other half dead in layers at packet bottom. I, who came in for a pretty plant, was so upset that I summoned garden center staff. Apparently I was another holiday blithe spirit with nothing else to do, or perhaps a little wildlife pecans. Maybe I am, a bit. I belong to Turtle Survival Alliance, Tri-City Ecology, Furry Friends Rescue, Ohlone Wildlife Rescue Center, Ohlone Humane Society, Friends of Heirloom Flowers, Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge and the Audubon Society. I write garden and I write children's animal science books. I also believe, wholeheartedly, that we are guardians of this blessed Earth.

Let's back up a bit. In winter, ladybugs normally congregate in mountain areas under piles of leaves. They hibernate. Their bodies survive on the fat accumulated during their spring and summer aphid feedings. Come spring, professional collectors come in with vacuum equipment. They vacuum up hordes of just-awakening ladybugs. These go into large cloth sacks. In a warehouse of some kind, the dirt is sifted out and the ladybugs go into tubs and from there into containers. A large gallon container might hold 75,000 ladybugs. From the containers, the ladybugs go into coolers which slow down their need to eat right away. They now go into large packets to farmers or into smaller packets for garden centers and similar sales outlets. The ladybugs are hungry and the packets are sealed.

This is springtime. Gardeners buy the packets; release the hungry ladybugs, who eat whatever aphids are available, then fly off to another garden restaurant. However some of the packets aren't purchased. So they sit, the ladybugs sometimes poaching in summer sun, and then making it through the dead of winter. They have been without food since the spring. So they die, little by little, in their plastic prisons. "Why don't you just let them out?" I asked. This suggestion did not go over well, or at all. I got one of those "looks" reserved for pests.

Ladybug Legends: There are long-time ladybug legend and superstitions all over the world. According to Norse legend, the ladybug came to earth riding on a bolt of lightening. From Bosnia: if a ladybug lands on you, let it fly away on its own. The way it goes is the direction extra money comes from. From Italy, when a child loses a tooth, it is hidden in a little hole. A gift is expected from the ladybug in exchange for the tooth.

The Ladybug is the state insect of Delaware, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, and Tennessee.

Did I win this small garden center battle? A staff member picked up the plastic containers of dead and dying ladybugs, placing them in a nearby refrigerator. Presumably so you can buy them next year.

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