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.