Tiny threats and al­lies

The Weekly Advertiser Horsham - - Horsham Spring Garden Festival -

In­sect life plays an in­te­gral role in the en­vi­ron­ment and this also ap­plies to back­yard gar­dens.

A greater un­der­stand­ing of this role and also the types of in­sects in­volved has led to a dra­matic shift in our ap­proach to gar­den in­sects.

Gone, or should be, are the days of au­to­mat­i­cally reach­ing for a broad-spec­trum toxic in­sec­ti­cide to wipe out any­thing that might be liv­ing on our trees, plants and flow­ers.

There are now plenty of prod­ucts and meth­ods to man­age pests while pro­tect­ing our tiny friends and al­lies.

If we take time to look close enough at our gar­dens, es­pe­cially if they are loaded with plant di­ver­sity, you can of­ten see all sorts of life in progress.

Some, such as pray­ing man­tises, bees or la­dy­birds, are favourites, while oth­ers such as ants, aphids and cab­bage moths, can make us cringe.

Many have con­sid­ered one type of gar­den pest we in the Wim­mera are fa­mil­iar with as an an­nual scourge that needs to be elim­i­nated – the ear­wig.

This in­sect, which tends to make an ap­pear­ance in warmer weather, at­tracts many re­sponses from gar­den­ers and the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion alike, whether based on real­ity or myth.

What we do know is that in­tro­duced Eu­ro­pean ear­wigs, For­fi­c­ula au­ric­u­laria, can be a se­ri­ous gar­den and crop-at­tack­ing pest, par­tic­u­larly when out of con­trol and in large num­bers.

What many don’t re­alise is that Aus­tralia is also home to more than 80 species of na­tive ear­wigs, many of them ben­e­fi­cial gar­den as­sis­tants.

The com­mon Aus­tralian brown ear­wig, Labidura trun­cata, for ex­am­ple, has a pen­chant for feast­ing on soft-bod­ied grubs such as the ap­ple-de­stroy­ing codling moth.

Any­one grow­ing up in gar­dens would have no­ticed these gar­den al­lies as ap­pear­ing dif­fer­ent from their Eu­ro­pean rel­a­tives. They are a lighter brown and the most no­table fea­ture is an or­ange tri­an­gle-shaped patch be­hind their heads.

Ear­wigs, de­pend­ing on type, are om­niv­o­rous scav­engers and in some cir­cum­stances, be­cause of an ap­par­ent love of pollen, im­por­tant pol­li­na­tors.

Some species have wings and can fly, some don’t.

And de­spite their fear­some-ap­pear­ing pin­cers, they are harm­less to any­thing big­ger than them­selves.

Per­haps a key mes­sage is that when pre­par­ing to dis­patch that ear­wig dis­cov­ered un­der leaf lit­ter or pot plant, have a close iden­ti­fy­ing look be­fore you act.

In one cir­cum­stance you might be rid­ding your­self of a frus­trat­ing pest, but if you get it wrong you might be re­mov­ing a friend.

The in­tro­duced Eu­ro­pean ear­wig For­fi­c­ula au­ric­u­laria, left, and the Aus­tralian brown ear­wig, Labidura trun­cata. Pic­tures: ALAN HEN­DER­SON, MINIBEAST WILDLIFE


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