With a name like insidious flower bugs, I had to write about them.
These predatory insects are a type of minute pirate bug. They eat many small garden pests and their eggs. And they bite.
Insidious flower bug bites
Yes, insidious flower bugs (Orius insidiosus) bite. We don’t know why. And it hurts. A lot. Some people react to these bites with welts, swelling, or redness, while others have no reaction [other than the pain]. Since these insects are not quick to fly away after biting, you may get some satisfaction out of ending them, but that wouldn’t be in your garden’s best interest. And insidious flower bug bites cannot actually harm you. In fact, they are so tiny that robber flies eat them. [Thanks to Jim Elve for permission to use this amazing photograph!]
Despite their bite, insidious flower bugs really are beneficial. They feed heavily on thrips [their favorite food], corn earworm eggs, mites, spider mites, small caterpillars, bollworms, whiteflies, scale insects, European corn borers, armyworms, potato leafhoppers, and a slew of aphid varieties, including spotted tobacco aphids, corn leaf aphids, and potato aphids. Insidious flower bugs are so beneficial, that they are raised commercially as a biological control against thrips, European red mites, twospotted spider mites, and most aphid varieties in eggplant, strawberry, cucumber, and sweet peppers crops. Research conducted in Florida found that insidious flower bugs were more effective at controlling thrips on sweet peppers than insecticides. Other research has demonstrated similar results with twospotted spider mites on bean plants, and soybean aphids on soybeans.
Insidious flower bug description
These mixed blessings are small, only 1/5 of an inch long. They tend to be flattened, with an oval to triangular shape. They are black with white markings. Nymphs are yellowish-orange to brown, wingless, and teardrop shaped. If you look at an insidious flower bug under a microscope, you can see that they have piercing mouthparts, called beaks, which they use to repeatedly stab and suck the juices from their prey.
Orius insidiosus lifecycle
Insidious flower bugs seem to come out of the woodwork in late summer, though they have been around since they hatched, starting in spring. Eggs are laid in plant tissue, then hatch into nymphs, going through five instars before reaching adulthood. This takes approximately 20 days, and there can be several generations a year. Most of their diet consists of insects and insects eggs, but they occasionally eat plants and pollen when prey is scarce.
Attracting insidious flower bugs
Despite the bite potential, these predators are good to have around. You can attract them to your garden by growing alfalfa, buckwheat, soybeans, cotton, grapes, and most deciduous fruits.
You can reduce the chances of getting bit by wearing dark clothing on hot days in late summer. For the most part, insect repellants do not work against these garden visitors.
Hot summer afternoons are the perfect time to enjoy a nap in a hammock - especially if you are a pumpkin or a melon.
Climbing plants use vines and tendrils to pull themselves ever upward, but they are not always strong enough to support a full sized pumpkin or watermelon. Providing extra support for heavy fruits can allow vines to become far more productive. Supporting fruit in hammocks also helps with pest control and frugal disease.
Growing up and saving space
If you are like me, growing melons and squash is an exercise in space-saving. Melons, pumpkins, cucumbers, watermelons, and cucamelons can all be grown up stock panels, in vertical gardens or towers, or up a fence. Left untrained, these long vines can take over an area. Cucumbers and cucamelons do not need extra support. In fact, cucumbers will grow in strange shapes if they come in contact with anything as they develop. Cucumbers are best allowed to hang naturally. But growing vertically puts a heavy strain on stems and tendrils as fruits get larger. That’s where hammocks come in.
Hammocks, insect control, and fungal disease
Raising fruit off the ground reduces the chance of many insect pests, such as darkling beetles, even finding your crop. At the same time, solid fabric hammocks can also create the perfect hiding spot for earwigs, so it’s a good idea to monitor your hammocks frequently, especially if you are using a closely woven cloth. Getting fruit off the ground also reduces fungal disease. Millions of fungi wait in the soil for just the right conditions - conditions that are created when a melon or pumpkin sits on the ground, creating shade and moisture collection. Great for fungi. Bad for your crop.
How to make melon (and pumpkin) hammocks
You can use an old pair of pantyhose, net onion bags, scraps of hardware cloth or chicken wire, old dishtowels, or old T-shirts to create hammocks for your melons and pumpkins. I have tied strips of fabric around cyclone fencing, sunflower stalks, and stock panels. You can also slip colorful onion net bags over immature fruit and tie or thumbtack the bag to a fence, trellis, or other support. An added bonus to using onion bags - the colors make it easier to find your melons!
Get your melons and pumpkins up off the ground with hammocks!
Every rose has its thorns, right? Well, no. They don’t.
Roses do not have thorns. Roses have prickles. Citrus trees have thorns.
Thorns, prickles, and other spiky bits
Thorns are a type of spinose structure made out of a modified leaf, stem, root, or bud. Many people use the terms bristles, prickles, spines, and thorns interchangeably. Botanically, these terms mean very different things:
So, where bristles are stiff hairs and prickles are hard, spiked skin (neither of which contain plant veins), spines, being modified leaves, and thorns, modified stems, do contain plant veins.
Plants use thorns as a mechanical defense against herbivores (and gardeners). Cacti are far less likely to be eaten when they are covered with hard thorns. And the pollinators who specialize in pollinating these particular types of plants seem to be unaffected by the presence of thorns. In some cases, thorns are also used to shade certain plant varieties, or to provide a layer of insulation.
Home, sweet thorn
Some thorns are hollow. These tiny chambers are called domatia. Plants, such as certain acacia species, produce domatium to provide shelter for beneficial arthropods (insects, spiders, and crustaceans). Similar to galls, which are produced by the resident, rather than the landlord, domatium are the plant’s side of a mutually beneficial relationship, most commonly with ants or mites. Occasionally, thrips may also move into these tiny apartments, but they are generally unhelpful to the plant. The plants that create these thorny thresholds are called myrmecophytes.
While I do not expect any of you to stop calling rose prickles thorns, why not impress your friends with your new-found knowledge?
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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