So fas­ci­nat­ing, close and per­sonal

Tiny crea­tures pro­duce a re­ally good show


One of the true de­lights of sum­mer, is the op­por­tu­nity to qui­etly ob­serve in­sect life in the gar­den. My 10-year-old daugh­ter and I re­cently spent an evening ly­ing in the hay pad­dock to see the wealth of an­i­mal life that lives there.

There were tiny grasshop­pers, spi­ders and bee­tles go­ing about their busi­ness and thou­sands of flies of all sizes and colours, in­clud­ing the green sol­dier fly.

A colour­ful orb-web spi­der sat swinging in the breeze just cen­time­tres from our faces.

When we moved on to find the na­tive bees in a clay track, we were treated to the most amaz­ing sight of twin­kling metal­lic emer­ald lights, as tiny ar­moured faces filled sunny holes in the bank, one by one. We lay there whis­per­ing qui­etly so as not to bother them.

Ev­ery time they were dis­turbed, each glow­ing head would pop back from sight as if lights in a small city were go­ing out.

There are said to be about 10,000 mil­lion in­sects per square kilo­me­tre of hab­it­able land and as much as we may bat­tle with the pest pro­por­tions of them in our gar­dens, we can’t do with­out them.

Even the pesky wasp is said to have some part to play, in­clud­ing help­ing to con­trol num­bers of other pest in­sects.

While most seem al­ways on the move, wrig­gling, run­ning, crawl­ing, hop­ping or fly­ing, some in­sects spend their lives liv­ing in one spot. As a newly-hatched young­ster, scale in­sects have legs they use to move away from their mother to a spot of their own and there they stay for the rest of their lives.

Some in­sects build a waxy coat­ing over them, oth­ers have a hard scale above to pro­vide pro­tec­tion while they spend their lives suck­ing sap from the leaves and stems of which­ever plant they live on. Soft scale in­sects pro­duce a sticky sub­stance called honey-dew which is fed upon by ants.

Preda­tor in­sects such as lady­bird lar­vae are kept at bay by the ants in or­der to pro­tect their food source.

Also, a fun­gus called sooty mould grows on the honey-dew, mak­ing it more dif­fi­cult for the plant to pho­to­syn­the­sise.

A large in­fes­ta­tion of scale in­sects can ad­versely af­fect the plant and some sort of con­trol is needed. Some gar­den­ers reach for the spray bot­tle while oth­ers pre­fer to prune the plant and at­tempt to scrape off a good part of the pop­u­la­tion.

Sum­mer is the best time to spray, when the young of soft-scale in­sects move.

The tiny bees we ob­served were most prob­a­bly La­sioglos­sum sor­didum, or New Zealand’s sec­ond most com­mon na­tive bee.

While they are not con­sid­ered a ma­jor pol­li­na­tor of do­mes­tic crops, they do pol­li­nate na­tive trees and shrubs.

Other in­sects also as­sist in pol­li­na­tion of gar­dens and or­chards in­clud­ing flies.

With fewer honey bees around, this is good news.

Hover­flies have the dou­ble ku­dos of also help­ing keep aphids and small cater­pil­lars in check. Their lar­vae con­sume these crea­tures as they grow.

Once ma­ture, the 10 species of hover­flies visit many flow­ers for the nec­tar and pollen they pro­duce, pol­li­nat­ing them as they go.

You can at­tract help­ful in­sects into your gar­den by grow­ing phacelia and var­i­ous herbs such as laven­der, rose­mary and plenty of flow­ers.


Con­trol re­quired: Scale in­sects in­fest a camel­lia tree.

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