We’ve all heard about ladybugs, but what about twicestabbed lady beetles?
Common ladybugs, or lady beetles, have the classic red half-domed shape, stubby antennae, and multiple black spots. This particular lady beetle has a black domed shape with two distinct red spots, hence the name. If you turn one over, their undersides are red or yellow.
Twicestabbed lady beetle description
Twicestabbed lady beetles (Chilocorus orbus) are only one of four black lady beetles with red spots. The other three are Axion plagiatum, Chilocorus kuwanae, and ashy gray lady beetles. All four species are beneficial predators, so it isn’t critical to be able to tell them apart. [The ashy gray lady beetle has a unique ability to change its color from gray to red, but we will discuss that another day.]
Twicestabbed lady beetle larva have the same bristled, elongated, alligator shape of other lady beetle larvae, but are more grey than black. Adults are 1/10 to 15 of an inch long.
Twicestabbed lady beetle diet
Twicestabbed lady beetles feed predominantly on adults and larvae of scale insects. Their diet includes armored scale on avocados, brown soft scale on citrus, European fruit lecanium on cherry, San Jose scale on pear, and more. You will rarely see twicestabbed lady beetle larvae because they spend most of their time hidden under scale insect domes, feeding. Eggs are even less likely to be seen, at 1/32” in length. Eggs may be laid singly or in clusters.
Feeding is normally done by piercing the victim and sucking out their innards. Older lady beetles also bite and chew their food.
As with other lady beetle species, it does no real good to buy them. If they don’t like what’s on the menu in your garden, they will simply fly away. If you make your garden appealing to lady beetles, they will find you.
This means providing fresh, mosquito larvae-free water. [Use mosquito dunks in all standing water.] Lady bugs also eat pollen, so planting a variety of flower colors and shapes may attract them. Allowing dill, cilantro, and fennel to go to seed provides a ready food source for both you and lady beetles. Also, avoid the use of broad spectrum pesticides and insecticides.
How many different species of lady beetles are in your garden?
No, it's not a flying snake.
Introducing another beneficial insect on the California garden scene: the snakefly.
I don’t know why they call it a snakefly. It doesn’t look like a fly or a snake. Apparently, snakeflies are native to the western half of North America, as well as Europe and Asia. Until yesterday, I had never heard of snakeflies. Let’s see what we can find out!
The first thing I learned about snakeflies is that they are considered living fossils, having remained relatively unchanged for over 140 million years.
Snakeflies (Agulla adnixa) have long, thin bodies with lifted torsos (prothorax), large eyes, extended mouthparts (mandibles), relatively long antennae, and a long, thin backend. Adults are reddish brown and can be 1/2 to 1” long. All four wings are transparent, and longer than the body, similar to lacewings (except that snakefly wings are covered with black veins). The long backend is not a stinger. Instead, it is an ovipositor, or egg-laying tube.
Larvae have squishy bodies, and the head and first segment are hardened (sclerotised), but they look like a cross between an earwig and a ladybug larvae. [Sorry, but I couldn't find any free-to-use photos.] Snakefly larvae have 3 pairs of true legs, and, you won’t believe this: Snakeflies have an adhesive strip on their abdomens that allows them to move up walls and trees!
Eggs are deposited in the soil, where they are able to absorb soil nutrients to help them grow and develop. When they hatch, larvae stay in the soil or move to the bark of nearby trees. There, they feed on soft-bodied pests, such as grubs and caterpillars, as well as the eggs and larvae of many garden pests. Snakefly larvae go through as many as 10 moltings before reaching adulthood. This process can take 2 to 6 years. Next, after temperatures reach 32°F, the larvae enter a pupal stage. Unlike other insects, the snakefly pupa is mobile, leaving its pupal cell for day trips or to relocate. The pupal stage is temperature dependent, lasts a few days to 3 weeks, upwards of 10 months. [This is one long lived insect!]
Adults snakeflies are very territorial as they feed on insects, such as mites and aphids. [Yay!] It is also believed that they occasionally nibble on pollen.
Snakeflies court one another with cleaning rituals. You may see them practicing their flirting skills by cleaning their legs and antennae when alone.
Have you seen any snakeflies in your garden? Let us know in the Comments!
Before you swat that tiny wasp away, take a closer look.
It may be one of the Good Guys.
Like other ichneumon wasps, Exochus females insert their eggs into the larval stage of many leaf rolling caterpillars, such as the orange tortrix and the obliquebanded leafroller. The eggs then hatch inside the caterpillar and begin feeding. You can see video of an Exochus female attacking a caterpillar here. The video is bit long, but fascinating.
These tiny wasps serve us well in the garden, so avoid using any broad spectrum pesticides and let nature take its course.
Many slender-bodied insects, such as thrips and leafhoppers, are garden pests. Damsel bugs are an exception. Damsel bugs are predators. And they are very quick.
Damsel bug actually refers to most of an entire family of insects (Nabidae). Most damsel bugs are Nabis species.
Damsel bug description
Damsel bugs are true bugs (Hemiptera), which makes them cousin to many of their favorite foods. Whereas the “beak” (rostrum) is used by most true bugs to pierce plant tissues and suck sap, damsel bugs use their beak to inject digestive enzymes into victims. In either case, the beak is usually held under the body when not in use.
Damsel bugs have soft, slender bodies that may be brown, gray, yellowish, reddish brown, or tan. Adults are 3/8- to 1/2-inch long. They have long legs and long antennae, and may be confused with equally beneficial assassin bugs. Like assassin bugs, some damsel bugs can and will bite. They are, after all, predators. Medically speaking, as far as I know, damsel bug bites are harmless.
Damsel bug lifecycle
Young damsel bugs, or nymphs, look a lot like adults, which means they go through an incomplete metamorphosis. They have 5 developmental stages, or instars, before reaching adulthood. This process takes approximately 50 days. Adult females hide eggs by laying them inside plant tissue. Damsel bugs are most active in the Bay Area mid-June through mid-August, but they overwinter in ground cover and winter crops, such as alfalfa and many legumes. Remember, just because you don’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
Damsel bug prey
Like lady beetles and praying mantis, damsel bugs are generalists. This means they will eat whatever they can hold onto long enough to eat. Very often, those meals are aphids, armyworms, small caterpillars and caterpillar eggs, fleahoppers, leafhoppers, lygus bugs, mites, proba bugs, spider mites, and thrips. (Hooray for damsel bugs!) Of course, they will also eat beneficial big-eyed bugs and minute pirate bugs, and occasionally they will even eat plants, but their net result to the garden is still very positive.
In one study, it was estimated that a single adult damsel bug eats 42 moth larvae, 24 lygus bug nymphs, or 5 aphids every day. The same study estimated that a peak population of damsel bugs (283,000 bugs per acre) could consumer 12 million moth larvae, 6 million lygus bug nymphs, 1 million aphids, or some combination of those and other prey, every 24 hours. That’s some significant garden protection!
If you keep a hand lens in your pocket, you may be able to see a damsel bug up close one day.
Predaceous ground beetles are a large family of beneficial insects that live in the soil.
You may see them scurrying across the ground, but mostly these members of Carabidae stay hidden in darkness. There are over 2,500 species of predaceous ground beetles in North America. They are mostly nocturnal and tend to hide under leaf litter and in the soil, though some species are attracted to lights at night.
Predaceous ground beetle description
Predaceous ground beetles are medium to large (1/3 to 2/3 inches long), shiny black or reddish beetles with long legs. Some species have brilliant coloration, and the shape can vary considerably. They have long, antenna with 11 segments and no knobs (clubs) at the end. The abdomen is large and rectangular, with a narrow thorax. While they can fly, they mostly prefer to run, which they do very quickly. Predaceous ground beetles look a lot like plant-eating darkling beetles. To tell them apart, you need to look closely enough to see if the second segment of the hind leg (trochanter), found between the coxa and femur, is enlarged. If it is, you have a predaceous ground beetle. Also, the antennae of predaceous ground beetles are attached just below a distinct ridge on the sides of the head.
Predaceous ground beetle life cycle
Eggs are laid in moist soil. When they hatch, larvae that look similar to earwigs emerge. These larvae feed voraciously on slugs and snails, and many bothersome soil dwelling insect larvae and pupa. These pest insects include masked chafers, caterpillars, grubs, tussock moth and gypsy moth larvae, other beetles, and maggots. These ground beetles will occasionally eat seeds and organic litter, but, as their name indicates, they prefer meat to vegetables. In fact, adult predaceous ground beetles can eat their body weight in food each day
So, the next time you see a black beetle running across the patio, look for fat legs and eyebrow ridges before squashing it!
Vedalia beetles are a breed of Australian ladybug that devours their weight in cottony cushion scale pests found on citrus, olives, roses, magnolia, and acacia. The vedalia beetle claim to fame is that it was California’s first attempt at biological pest control
Back in the late 1800s, cottony cushion scale was decimating California’s citrus trees. In 1888, vedalia beetles (Rodolia cardinalis) were imported from Australia to counteract that pest, and it saved the California citrus industry
Vedalia beetle description
Like other lady beetles, vedalia beetles are easy to recognize because of their domed body shape and stubby antennae. The difference being coloration. While bright red lady bugs feature dark spots, vedalia beetles feature a much darker red dome with splotchy black markings. Adults are approximately 1/16 to 1/8 of an inch long and covered with fine hairs that can make them look more grayish than red and black. Larvae are elongate, grayish, and can look like tiny alligators.
Vedalia beetle diet
While the bright red variety most of us think of as ladybugs feeds heavily on aphids, vedalia beetles prefer cottony cushion scale insects. Adult vedalia beetles simply chew up their prey, while younger larvae pierce their victims and suck out their juices.
Vedalia beetles start out as tiny red eggs. These eggs hatch out into tiny red larva. Vedalia larva start feeding right away and they go through several instars, or developmental stages, as they grow. They continue to feed until just before pupating. Then they attach themselves to a leaf as they prepare for their final transformation. [Unlike other insects that pupate, if you touch a healthy vedalia pupa, it should move.] One week later, an adult vedalia beetle emerges, ready to lay 100 to 200 eggs in its 1 to 3 month lifespan.
Combined with a parasitic wasp (Cryptochaetum iceryae), cottony cushion scale is now well under control in California, without the use of any chemicals. Since vedalia beetles are extremely sensitive to pesticides, it is a good idea to inspect an area for these beneficial insects before spraying chemicals.
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.
Antlions are fierce predators of the garden.
Cousin to lacewings and owlflies, and often mistaken for dragonflies or damselflies, these beneficial insects fly at dusk and at night. It is their larvae, however, that do the most damage to garden pests, such as ants and termites.
Adult antlions live for only 20 to 25 days, and most antlion species do not eat anything. Those that do only eat pollen and nectar. Instead of dining, they flutter around at dusk and during the night, attracted to lights and flames, in search of a mate. After mating, the female lays her eggs in sand or plant debris. Those eggs hatch into ferocious larvae that feed until they are ready to pupate into adults. This entire cycle make take 2 to 3 years to complete.
Adult antlions have two pairs of clear, thin wings, and a narrow abdomen. They can be differentiated from damselflies by their long, clubbed antennae. Also, adult antlions don’t appear to fly very well.
Antlion larvae are often called doodlebugs because of the squiggly trails they leave behind. Antlion larvae are spindle-shaped, with a plump middle and three pairs of legs. [You may have seen a variation of an antlion in the ‘Ceti eels’ from Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan]. Antlions appear to have a mobile neck (prothorax) and the head is flattened with very large, heavily ‘toothed’ jaws. Those teeth are actually sharp, hollow tubes. Within these jaws of death, antlion larvae have a canal that carries venom to immobilize their prey and enzymes to liquify them, once they are paralyzed. If that weren’t terrifying enough, antlion larvae feature forward facing bristles that help them to stand stand ground against significantly larger prey. One weird thing about antlion larvae is that they do not have an anus. Instead of releasing waste, they store it for later use as a building material for their cocoon. Any unused waste material is then released at the end of its pupal stage. [I suppose that it’s no surprise that antlion cocoons look like rabbit droppings or bird poop…]
Signs of antlion habitation
How would you know if antlions are in your garden? You might see adult antlions fluttering around your porch light. Or, you might see holes in the ground. While some antlions hide in wait for their prey under leaf litter, other species of antlion larvae trap their prey in pits. They build these traps by walking backwards in circles, flipping grains of dirt and sand out of the hole with its very large jaws. Ultimately, they end up with a very steep-sided hole that can be 3/4” to 1-1/2” deep. The soil or sand around the pit is loose. At the bottom of that pit, the antlion larvae waits quietly for its next meal. As an unsuspecting insect walks by, they may fall in. When they do, it’s all over for them! As soon as prey fall in, the antlion quickly flips more soil out of the hole, making it deeper and causing grains of soil to fall on the prey, knocking it deeper into the hole. Finally, the insect is grabbed by the antlion’s large jaws and the liquefaction of its insides begins. After everything has been sucked out, the husk it thrown out of the hole and everything is tidied up for the antlion's next guest.
There is a tale that says you can talk antlion larvae out of their holes. Simply bend down, close to the hole, and tell the antlion to tell you what you want to know. At the sound of your voice, the antlion emerges from their hole, but why? The tale says that the larvae want to ear what you have to say. What’s really happening, is the soil is disturbed by your movement and the sound vibrations of your voice, so the antlion thinks it either has lunch, or a housekeeping job to attend to.
There are over 600 antlion species worldwide. Antlion larvae are often used as fishing bait, and some people keep them as curiosity pets. How many do you have in your garden?
While these furry, clumsy, easy-going pollinators can sting you, repeatedly even, they generally choose to ignore us. [Unless they get caught in a certain young girl’s unruly long hair. Believe me. I speak from personal experience.]
The name bumblebee, or bumble bee, comes from the characteristic buzz (bumble) of this gentle pollinator. Before it was called bumblebee, it was known as a ‘humblebee’ and before that a version of a ‘clumsily flying buzzing beetle’ or ‘dumbledor’ was used. [I’ll bet you weren’t expecting that one!]
Charles Darwin had this to say about bumblebees in his book, On the Origin of Species (1859):
I have [...] reason to believe that humble-bees are indispensable to the fertilisation of the heartsease (Viola tricolor), for other bees do not visit this flower. From experiments which I have tried, I have found that the visits of bees, if not indispensable, are at least highly beneficial to the fertilisation of our clovers; but humble-bees alone visit the common red clover (Trifolium pratense), as other bees cannot reach the nectar.
Bumblebees really are clumsy fliers. They bump into stems, leaves, and branches quite frequently. Research conducted at the California Academy of Sciences and UC Davis explored how bumblebees are able to withstand the frequent collisions they experience each day. When I say frequent, I mean once a second, on average.
Cousin to honeybees (Apini), orchid bees (Euglossini), and stingless bees (Meliponini), bumblebees (Bombini Bombus) have pollen baskets on their legs, making them all corbiculate. Fossil evidence of the common ancestor to these beneficial insects dates back 100 million years. Bumblebees have been around for 25 to 40 million years, depending on who you ask.
Bumblebees are more commonly found in higher latitudes and higher elevations than other bees. There are even two species found in the Arctic! This may be due to their fur coats, but scientists explain that bumblebees are able to regulate body temperature, using the sun’s radiation and ‘shivering’ to generate heat. Unlike other bees, bumblebee queens are known to incubate their eggs.
Like other insects, bumblebees have a three part body made up of the head, thorax, and abdomen. The head features two compound eyes and three primitive eyes, mouthparts, and antennae. Female bumblebee antennae have 12 joints, while males have 13. The thorax is where the wings, legs, and wing muscles are found. The abdomen contains the digestive and reproductive organs and the stinger.
Bumblebees have two pairs of wings, a fore wing and a rear wing. The wings connect to muscles that are attached to the inside of the plates that make up a bumblebee’s exoskeleton. A waxy substance is secreted from glands and discharged from between the plates. It looks a lot like dandruff. Bees groom the wax into clumps and use it to build honey pots, egg coverings, and as nesting material. Bumblebees do not have ears. We do not know if they can sense sound waves through the air. They do seem to be able to sense vibration through other materials, such as the ground.
Unlike the oblong honey bee, or the shiny black female carpenter bee, your average bumblebee looks round and furry. This is because they are covered with very soft, finely branched bristles, called setae. Bumblebees can usually be differentiated from golden male carpenter bees by the presence of contrasting bands and other markings. This aposematic coloration serves as a warning to would-be predators. Some other insects, such as hoverflies, mimic and are protected by this coloration. This is called Batesian mimicry. Bumblebees come in a variety of sizes, ranging from 1/2 an inch, up to one-and-a-half inches long. [Don’t worry, that big one lives in Chile and is affectionately referred to as a ‘flying mouse’ - okay, maybe not affectionately.]
Bumblebees store fat in their body. This fat is used up during hibernation. Bumblebees do not use the bee dances common to honey bees, but they do exhibit social learning. Youngster bumblebees are frequently bumped off of favored flowers by more mature bees. In a lab experiment, bumblebees were taught to move an object in exchange for a reward. Untrained bees who observed the task-reward process learned it more quickly than those bees who observed the same exchange performed by an inanimate object. In fact, observer bees consistently improve on the methods used initially, implying at least some level of cognition.
Most bumblebee species are social insects. They live in relatively small colonies, led by a queen. Honey bee colonies hold 10 to 60 thousand workers, during peak honey production, while a bumblebee colony may only contain 50 to 1,500 individuals.
Bumblebee nests are first constructed by an over-wintered queen. After collecting pollen and nectar from flowers and finding a suitable nesting site, the young queen will build wax pots to store food, and wax cells to receive her eggs. As the eggs hatch into larvae, the cells are expanded into a lumpy mass of brood cells. Nesting sites can be in or on the ground, or in tussock grasses, depending on the species. Bumblebee nests are a food source for badgers and other insectivores. Bumblebees normally range only a mile or so from the nest.
A queen bumblebee performs a mating flight before retiring to her nest. There, she will ‘decide’ whether or not to use the collected sperm to fertilize each egg she lays. Unfertilized eggs develop into males. Fertilized eggs grow up to be hormonally suppressed worker females or fertile queens. Mature males are forced out of the nest by the females. Males and new queens live independently from the colony, sleeping in flowers or holes in the ground.
Bumblebees feed on nectar, and pollen is collected for the young. Bumblebees lap up nectar with a long, hairy tongue, called a proboscis. The tip of the tongue may also be used as a straw. Because the tongue is so long, bumblebees are able to gather nectar from (and pollinate) deeper flowers than honey bees, which have shorter tongues. When bumblebees fly, the proboscis is often folded under the head. Some bumblebees feed on flowers from above, the way other bees and hummingbirds do, while other ‘rob’ the nectar by cutting a hole in the base of the flower. It is called ‘robbing’ because this behavior avoids pollen transfer. [The metabolic rate of bumblebees is 75% higher than a hummingbird’s.]
Some species of bumblebee leave a scent marker behind on a flower, after it has fed. This marker deters other bumblebees from feeding on that flower, until the marker fades. Once a bumblebee has eaten its fill and collected all of the nectar it can carry, it returns to the nest and deposits its riches in brood cells, for the young, or in wax cells, for storage. Unlike honey bees, which process nectar into honey, bumblebees store it as-is.
Bumblebees as pollinators
Bumblebees are powerful pollinators. As they feed, moving from flower to flower, they collect and deposit pollen. Bumblebees are commonly used in greenhouse tomato production. They are fed sugar water so that they do not need to harvest nectar, and can focus exclusively on pollen.
[Did you know that pollen is left behind at each flower because the act of flying causes the bee to build up a static charge? The plants, being rooted in the ground, are, well, grounded. The electrically charged pollen grains on the bee are attracted to the stigma, which happens to be the best grounded part of a flower, while the flower’s grounded pollen is attracted to the bee’s statically charged body. How bizarre and amazing is that?!!?]
Bumblebees also pollinate plants by a method called buzz pollination, or sonication. They do this by disconnecting their wings from their flight muscles and vibrating their flight muscles at a frequency very close to middle C. [The frequency varies depending on plant species.] The force generated during sonication can reach 30 Gs, which is almost more than a human can tolerate! This vibration causes a flower’s pollen to burst forth. This method is particularly effective on blueberries and members of the nightshade family, such as tomatoes, tomatillos, and eggplant. Sweat bees, carpenter bees, and stingless bees sonicate, but honey bees do not. PBS has an amazing video of buzz pollination.
California bumblebee species
There are over 250 species of bumblebee worldwide and 26 species in California. There used to be 14 native bumblebee species in the Bay Area. Now there are only a handful. This is especially unfortunate when you realize that native bumblebees are responsible for pollinating 42% of all native California flowering plants, according to UC Davis entomologist Robbin Thorp. Currently in the Bay Area, you may see:
These bumblebee species have not been seen in the Bay Area in recent years:
Cuckoo bumblebees, or brood parasitic bees, do not live in colonies. Instead, cuckoo queens will invade a nearby bumblebee nest, kill the queen, and then start laying their own eggs, which end up being cared for by the murdered queen’s workers. [You can tell the difference between a cuckoo bumblebee and a social bumblebee by looking closely at the back leg: nesting female bumblebees have a pollen basket, which is bare and shiny, whereas a cuckoo bee hind leg is covered with hairs. They transport pollen by wedging it between the hairs.]
Like the European honey bee, bumblebee numbers are declining. This is largely due to habitat loss, pesticide use, and the mechanization of agriculture. You can counteract some of these effects by planting flowers that attract and provide for bumblebees.
Bumblebees are attracted to flowers by both sight and smell. They seem to prefer flowers that grow on spikes, such as salvia and lavender. This may also be because these flowers tend to be blue, purple, or white, favorite colors of bumblebees. Bumblebees are also attracted to members of the sunflower family. The most important consideration when planting to attract bumblebees is that the stems are sturdy enough to support these heavy pollinators. Bumblebees can also see a flower’s temperature, as well as its electrical field.
You may very well already have plants that attract bumblebees. If you allow your kale and other cabbage family members to bolt in early spring, bumblebees will take advantage of the blooms, and you will add these plants to your foodscape as seeds are dispersed later in the season. Other popular flowers that attract bumblebees include anise hyssop (Agastache foesniculum), guaras (Guara lindheimeri and other cultivars), bog sage (Salvia uliginosa), Mexican sage (S. mexicana) and many members of the mint family, including basil, thyme, sage, and rosemary. Native plants, such as manzanita, ceanothus, CA buckwheats, penstemons, currants, and gooseberries will also attract and provide for these hard working beneficial insects.
Bumblebees are housing opportunists. They build nests in upturned planter pots, abandoned mouse burrows, and under boards. If you have a square foot of bare, undisturbed soil and the right flowers, you are pretty much guaranteed a visit.
The U.S. Forest Service offers a comprehensive guide to California bumblebees and a nice poster of western bumblebees with dietary notes. You can also learn more about bumblebee conservation from the Xerces Society.
Robber flies assassinate their prey in the air, injecting them with paralyzing neurotoxins and enzymes that liquify their preys’ insides. Also known as assassin flies, robber flies (Asilidae) aggressively hunt other insects. They often look more like bees or dragonflies to the casual observer. And they are in your garden, for better or worse.
Robber fly description
There are over 7,500 different species of robber fly, ranging in size from 0.2 inches up to 2 inches long. All of them are sturdy, bristled flies with a distinct mustache, made of of bristles (setae), called a mystax. Robber flies, like many other insects, have three simple eyes (ocelli), in a depression on top of their head, between two very large compound eyes. [Simple eyes, like ours, have only one lens, while compound eyes have many lenses.] Robber flies generally have robust legs with spines, and short, segmented antennae. Most species of robber fly have long, skinny bodies with stinger-like ovipositors, while others look more like bumblebees. Robber flies will inflict a painful bite with their proboscis (tubular mouth part), if they feel threatened.
Robber fly life cycle
There is surprisingly little known about the private lives of robber flies. They seem to prefer dry, sunny, open environments. Each robber fly can live for up to 3 years. Eggs can be translucent (hyaline) or pigmented, spherical or oval, depending on the species. Yellowish or white larvae, with tapered bodies and a dark head, are believed to live in leaf mold, rotting wood, and in the soil. There are four larval stages, or instars. Scientists are only now learning about the feeding behavior of robber fly larvae. It’s pretty strange. For one thing, the first instar does not eat insects; it probably eats dead things. The second instar eats beetle larva secretions. [Don't ask.] Later instars are actual predators. Robber fly pupa are naked and have leg stubs, so they can move around, similar to hornworm larvae.
Robber fly prey
Robber flies are generalists. That means they will chase after and kill pretty much anything that flies by, beneficial or not. That is why I said, for better or worse.” Robber flies will kill many garden pests, but they will also kill beneficial insects. Some of these prey insects are pretty substantial in size, compared to a robber fly. But, adult robber flies are excellent fliers. You can usually hear them coming, but for their prey, it’s already too late. Hiding in ambush, a robber fly spots its target, gives chase, and grabs ahold with its tarsi (front legs) before injecting a chemical cocktail that paralyzes the prey and liquifies its insides. The most common victims of robber fly attack include:
They have also been recorded feeding on:
And, hummingbirds. It’s rare, but it has happened. You can see some excellent video of robber fly behavior at Mike Blair Outdoors.
Have you seen any robber flies in your garden? Do you consider them to be Good Guys or Bad Guys?
Hoverflies, or syrphid flies, are one of the most beneficial insects you can attract to your garden.
Hoverflies are members of the Syrphidae family. There are over 6,000 species worldwide and 300 on the West Coast. Many of them mimic bees and wasps to discourage predators, but they are harmless to humans. Hoverflies mimic bees and wasps in other ways, too, as both predators and pollinators.
With so much variety, there is no one description that covers all hoverflies (also spelled hover flies). They can be as large as 3/4” long or so small that you won’t notice them. They can be black or colorful, spotted, striped, or plain. What they all have in common is the fact that they tend to hover over their favorite flowers. There are some bee flies that also hover, but they are equally beneficial as both pollinators and predators, so you don’t really need to know the difference* between the two species. Hoverfly larvae are blind and deaf. They are only 1/32 to 1/2 of an inch in length. They may be green, brown, yellow, or nearly transparent. They may have a white longitudinal stripe.
* If you really need to know the difference, hoverflies have shorter legs, a prominent beak, and a line along the back of their wings, while bee flies have longer legs, a sloping face, and clear wings. Also, bee flies are more likely to be hairy. There. Now you know.
Once a female has mated, she will seek out a good place to lay her white, elliptical eggs. A good place, to a hoverfly, is one that looks like there will be plenty of aphids for her young to eat. After they hatch, hoverfly larvae hang onto a leaf with their back end and swing back and forth, looking for prey. Once found, the prey are poked and sucked dry. The larvae leave a trail of empty husks to show where they have been feeding. Eventually, the larvae create a green or dark brown pupa around themselves, where they will metamorphosis into adults.
Not all hoverflies behave in the same way, but there is enough variety to safely assume these are bugs you want in your landscape and garden. Some hoverfly larvae are saprotrophs, which means they each decaying plant and animal matter in the soil. This improves soil structure and makes nutrients available to plants. Other hoverfly maggots are powerful predators, devouring a lion’s share of aphids and other plant-sucking pests.
Hoverflies as predators
Most hoverfly species larvae will eat aphids, thrips, mealybugs, mites, scale insects, and leafhoppers. That’s a good thing, because these pests spread several diseases, including curly top, powdery mildew, black spot, rust, and sooty mold, just to name a few! Other hoverfly larvae prey on caterpillars, slugs, and codling moth larvae. In my book, there are no bad hoverflies.
Hoverflies as pollinators
As adult hoverflies feed on nectar and pollen, they also pollinate many of your garden crops. In fact, hoverflies are second only to bees when it comes to pollination. Unlike bees, which tend to prefer specific species, hoverflies are generalists, landing wherever the picking looks good.
There are several insectary plants that attract hoverflies. Most of these plants provide pollen and nectar to the adult forms. Hoverflies prefer plants that have shallow or umbrella-shaped flowers. These plants are often members of the Umbelliferae or Apiceae family. Adding the following plants to your landscape is sure to attract these beneficial insects:
Research has shown that hoverflies prefer yellow and white flowers over other colors. Since organic pesticides, such as spinosad, also kill beneficial hoverflies, you may want to think twice about when you spray. Once flowers are in bloom, you may want to hold off.
Orchid trivia - One type of orchid, Epipactis veratrifolia, emits chemicals that mimic the alarm pheromones used by aphids. This attracts hoverflies, resulting in pollination. Stuff like that makes me wonder what else is going on that we never notice...
Salvia is tough and beautiful. The bees love it and you probably do, too!
This member of the mint family is one of those no-brainer plants here in the Bay Area. Composing the largest genus of mints, this group of plants includes the culinary favorite, sage (Salvia officinalis). Most ornamental salvias are referred to by their Latin name. The word salvia comes from the Latin word ‘salvere’, which means to feel well and healthy.
Salvias tend to be woody plants, which is one reason why they are so good at handling drought. Depending on the variety, they can be evergreen or deciduous, annual, perennial, or biennial. Like other mints, the stems tend to grow at angles to each other and are square. The flower spikes are the big attraction. They consist of a modified leaf, called a bract, and stalked, clustered flowers, called racemes or panicles. Flowers can be red, pink, yellow, or white, but the deep blueish-purple is my favorite. Hummingbirds, butterflies, and other beneficial pollinators love them, as well.
Weird salvia science
Unlike most mints, which have four stamens, salvia have a unique pollination mechanism that uses only two stamens and connective tissue (thecae) that create a lever action. Within male flowers, this lever action causes pollen to be dumped on any visiting pollinator. After the pollinator leaves, everything returns to its normal position. In female flowers, the same mechanism pushes the stigma to be in the same general area on the pollinator’s body, increasing the likelihood of pollination and fertilization (assuming they are the same size).
How to grow salvia
Salvias can be grown from seeds, seedlings, or cuttings, depending on the variety, once the last frost date has passed. Most salvias prefer full sun and good air circulation. An exception is the Japanese yellow sage (Salvia koyamae), which prefers shade and moist soil. If your soil is heavy clay, like mine, you will want to incorporate some aged compost to lighten it up before planting. Salvias will produce more blooms with regular feeding. You can also mulch around plants with aged compost for reduced moisture loss and slow-release feeding. If you prune your salvias before they bloom, flowering can be significantly delayed. Better to shear your salvias at a time of year when they are not flowering. And be sure to deadhead spent blooms the rest of the year to stimulate more flower production. While being drought tolerant, your salvias will need to be watered. Just wait until you notice some moderate wilting, to avoid common fungal diseases.
Salvia pests and diseases
Rust, powdery mildew, and leaf spot may occur, but they can often be prevented with proper water management [Read: avoid overhead watering]. Aphids and thrips will be the most common pests. [Aren’t they always?] Many salvias have hairs on leaves and stems that discourage many pests and grazers (and my chickens).
Whether you choose edible culinary sage, fragrant pineapple sage (Salvia elegans), the sacred white sage (Salvia apiana), or sturdy purple sage (Salvia dorrii), try adding some salvia to your landscape or garden today!
Bee balm is a striking North American native that attracts more than just bees to your garden.
Bees and other pollinators are what help your garden plants produce the fruits and vegetables we love. Adding plants that they love can increase your bounty many times over. Bee balm also provides pollen and nectar to other beneficial insects.
Antiseptic bee balm
Bee balm is a perennial. It is also a member of the mint family. Like other mints, bee balm has antiseptic properties. In fact, it is still used as a primary ingredient in popular mouthwashes. Native Americans used bee balm leaves and flowers to treat headaches, wounds, flatulence, and respiratory problems. They also used it to season wild game. While somewhat bitter, it tastes like a combination of peppermint and oregano.
The bee balm plant
Bee balm (Monarda), also known as wild bergamot, horsemint, and Oswego tea, loves sunshine. If it is grown in partial shade, it will stay low to the ground and produce very few flowers. Grown in full sun, it can reach four feet in height, though most are only half that. The flowers, which tend to appear in early to late summer, are striking, with white, pink, and purple tubular daisy-like blooms. You can also find dwarf varieties that look lovely in containers.
How to grow bee balm
Bee balm, like other mints, prefers rich, moist soil. If enough moisture is present, bee balm can overtake an area. Some varieties can tolerate more dryness than others, so do your homework. It is easiest to buy bee balm plants from a reputable seller, or, if you know someone with an established plant, you can ask them to share some with you the next time they are dividing their plants. Bee balm can be planted in spring or fall. Plants should be spaced two feet apart, and the planting hole should have some compost worked into it, to a depth of 12 to 15 inches.
In most regions, bee balm prefers full sun, but scorching California summers can sometimes be a bit much, so you may want to place your bee balm in where it will be protected from direct sunlight in the hottest part of the day. On the flip side of the calendar, your bee balm plant may die back to ground level in the winter, but don’t panic. Simply cover the area with mulch and it will be back when temperatures warm.
Bee balm pests and diseases
Powdery mildew is really the only problem that occurs with bee balm. You can protect your bee balm from powdery mildew by avoiding overhead watering and by pruning for good air flow. Fungicides can be used with marginal success.
Caring for bee balm
Bee balm is a low maintenance plant. You will want to provide it with a layer of compost each spring, covered with mulch, for good soil health. It may need to be watered during the peak of summer and be sure to remove spent blooms (deadhead) to encourage fresh flowers throughout the growing season.
So, sooth your senses and savor the site of butterflies and bees in your garden with bee balm!
Flies with mohawks are out to save your garden!
A tachinid fly looks like a small, sturdy house fly with a mohawk on its rear end. These tiny flies use many common garden pests to feed their young. Let’s find out how.
Tachinids as parasitoids
Tachinid flies are second only to parasitic wasps in pest control. Different tachinid species make use of different hosts in a number of ways. Most are parasitoids, which means they end up killing their host, while some are parasitic, which means the host may live. Tachinid flies parasitoid host insects to provide a guaranteed food source for their offspring. To parasitoid a garden pest, tachinid flies use several different methods. They may lay eggs on leaves favored by preferred caterpillars. When the larvae hatch, they are consumed by the caterpillar along with the leaf. Once inside the host, the larvae (maggots) begin their own feeding. Other tachinid species glue their eggs to the body of a host. When the eggs hatch, the maggots start feeding. Yet others using a piercing ovipositor (egg depositor organ) to inject the host with the eggs. Maggots feed until they are ready to pupate. Then, they drop to the ground and a hard casing forms to protect them as they morph into an adult fly.
You can attract tachinid flies to your garden or landscape by providing pollen and nectar for the adults from flat-topped (carrot, dill, yarrow) and composite (rudbeckia and aster) flowers. These beneficial insects also feed on aphid honeydew.
So, before you grab the fly swatter, take a closer look to see if that picnic pest is sporting a mohawk on its rear end.
Big-eyed bugs are your friend.
There are several different members of the Geocoris, or big-eyed bug family, and all of them are predators. This means they love to eat the pests that suck the life out of your garden plants, spreading disease as they go. The more big-eyed bugs you have in your landscape, the better.
Big-eyed bug diet
Gardeners should appreciate big-eyed bugs. These predators feast on small caterpillars, flea beetles, mites, cabbage loopers, whiteflies, and many different insect eggs. Research has shown that a single big-eyed bug nymph may consume up to 1,600 spider mites in its lifetime!
Attracting big-eyed bugs
You cannot currently purchase big-eyed bugs, but you can certainly lure them in with plants that provide nectar for when prey is scarce. While many beneficial insects prefer the flowers of carrot, fennel, and onion, big-eyed bugs prefer yarrow above all else. Yarrow is a sturdy, attractive border plant and it takes very little care to stay attractive.
Plant some yarrow today for your local big-eyed bugs!
Summer iced teas, winter colds, and many fruit and fish dishes are all made better with lemon balm.
This easy to grow perennial herb is a member of the mint family, which means it is a rugged, tenacious, and fragrant addition to your foodscape.
Using lemon balm
Also known as cure-all, sweet balm, and honey plant, lemon balm adds a soothing lemon flavor to teas, tinctures, and steam. Traditionally, lemon balm has been used to treat digestive upset, anxiety, thyroid disease, Alzheimer’s disease, ADHD, high blood pressure, sores, and even insect bites. Scientific research has demonstrated that lemon balm does provide some significant benefits (besides making a great cup of tea):
Unlike other herbs, lemon balm loses much of its flavor when dried, so fresh is better. I just learned that there is a lemon balm pesto recipe - I’ll let you know how it tastes in an update.
How to grow lemon balm
Once lemon balm is established, it will readily self-seed, so choose a site that has room for it. Individual plants can reach 2 feet in height and width. It can also spread vegetatively, where twig ends touch the ground and develop roots. Unlike many other members of the mint family, lemon balm does not spread using stolons (runners). Regular trimming will keep lemon balm plants healthy and attractive. You can also grow lemon balm in a container. My in-ground lemon balm has always stayed rather low-growing and has been pretty year-round (even after frost!) with just a little bit of trimming. Lemon balm normally dies back in winter above-ground, but comes back in spring. Lemon balm seeds require light and warmth (70 °F) to germinate, but the mature plants prefer some afternoon shade. Lemon balm prefers rich, moist soil with good drainage, and a pH of 6 to 7.
Lemon balm attracts honey bees!
The scientific name of lemon balm, Melissa officinalis, is a reflection of how much it attracts honey bees. The word ‘Melissa’ is Greek for bee. Small flowers, which can be white, pink, red, or yellow, appear each summer, packed with nectar. Many beekeepers throughout history have planted lemon balm near their hives. Whether you keep honey bees or not, attracting them to your garden is sure to improve pollination and production.
Add lemon balm to your garden, landscape, or balcony for healthier bees and a happier you!
We’ve all heard some seeds or plants described as heirlooms and others hybrids, but what do those terms really mean?
Both hybrids and heirlooms come about through naturally occurring cross-pollination, as opposed to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which are created in a lab using altered DNA strands.
Before agriculture became an industry, people grow a wider variety of plants for food. That biodiversity helped offset inclement weather, diseases and pests, and other threats to a failed crop and the resulting starvation. Corporate agriculture, on the other hand, feeds countless millions by generating a smaller variety of uniform plants that consistently grow at specific rates, that can be sprayed with a variety of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, ship well, and store well. As many of you know, taste and texture often suffer s a result.
Pros & cons of heirlooms
Heirloom seeds are those that have been handed down, person to person, in a specific geographical region, for a very long time. Also, heirlooms are open-pollinated, which means pollination occurs naturally, by wind, birds, animals, and insects, and not by human efforts. Heirloom varieties are at least 50 years old (some say 100 years), and many of them have been grown consistently, in the same locale, since before WWII. These plants have evolved to take advantage of local microclimates and beneficial insects. Heirloom seeds are hand selected by gardeners from the very best plants each growing season. Many heirloom plants do not have the uniformity or long term storage capabilities of hybrids, but growers (myself included) claim that the flavor is significantly better. Heirloom crops have more variety in size and shape than hybrids, but they always grow true to their parent plants. Heirlooms are more genetically diverse, making them more durable as a species, and less susceptible to local pests and diseases. Heirloom offspring are fertile and can reproduce.
Pros & cons of hybrids
Hybrid plants are intentionally created by cross-pollinating different varieties of a species. The intention of hybridization is to take advantage of the best characteristics of each parent plant, creating what is known as hybrid vigor (heterosis). This vigor only lasts for one generation. Hybrid seeds do not grow true to their parents and they lack vigor and genetic diversity. This lack of diversity is what caused the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s. If all the plants are identical, they are equally susceptible to pests and diseases. A single threat can be devastating.
Creating a hybrid that grows “true” to the desired characteristics takes years of diligent effort. Plants are often pollinated by hand or grown in greenhouses or pollination bags that block contamination from outside pollen to ensure that pollination only occurs between the desired plants. The majority of the fruits and vegetables you see in grocery stores are hybrids. Harvests are very consistent in size and shape. Hybridization is done for many specific characteristics:
When shopping for plants and seeds, one way to know if it is a hybrid is to look at the Latin name. If you see the letter “x” between words in the name, it is a hybrid. For example:
Raspberry (Rubus idaeus) crossed with blackberry (Rubus ursinus)
creates Loganberry (Rubus x loganobaccus)
*Check labels for the letters V, F, N, T or A. These symbols indicate a resistance to verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt, nematodes, tobacco mosaic virus or alternaria stem canker, respectively.
Understanding the difference between heirlooms and hybrids can help you make the right choice if you want to collect viable seeds from your harvest for next year’s planting.
Soldier beetles rank right up there with lady beetles and lacewings in the world of beneficial insects.
Soldier beetles are predators that love to eat aphids. For that, alone, they are loved by gardeners. They also help pollinate crops as they feed on pollen and nectar. Soldier beetle larvae love to eat the eggs and larvae of moths and butterflies, beetles, armyworms, and other insect pests.
Soldier beetle identification
Unlike many hard-shelled beetles, soldier beetles have softer, more leathery bodies. In fact, some people call them leatherwings. There are many different species of soldier beetles (Cantharidae), but they all have rather long, narrow, rectangular bodies that are approximately 1/2 inch long. They commonly have a red, orange, or yellow head, back and abdomen, with dark grey or brown wing covers. You will see a large dark spot on the wings, when open. The larva are long, flat, and dark colored. Larva are often found under bark and in leaf litter.
California is home to more than 100 different species of soldier beetle. There is another bug with an almost identical name, spined soldier bug (Good Guy), but they look more like brown marmorated stinkbugs (Bad Guys). If you look closely in the garden, you will see these soldier beetle lookalikes:
Encourage soldier beetles in your garden by:
Chamomile makes a soothing tea, an excellent ground cover, and, hey, it looks pretty. Just ask Beatrix Potter fans!
Seriously, these dainty little flowers have been used and enjoyed for a really long time. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “Chamomile is one of the oldest, most widely used and well documented medicinal plants in the world and has been recommended for a variety of healing applications.” In fact, it would almost be easier to list the conditions for which chamomile doesn’t help. Scientific research has shown chamomile’s anti-inflammatory and soothing properties to be moderately to significantly effective against a number of digestive, respiratoty, and sleep-related problems.
Attracting beneficials with chamomile
If all those medical conditions weren’t reason enough to add chamomile to your garden or foodscape, many beneficial insects are also attracted to chamomile. Syrphid or hoverflies, parasitic wasps, tachinid flies, bees, and other pollinators are attracted to chamomile.
There are many daisy-like plants that fall under the name chamomile, but only two genuine varieties: Roman and German. German chamomile (Matricaria recutita), also known as ‘Water of Youth’ or wild chamomile, is an annual that can grow up to 2 feet in height and 2 feet across. Roman, English, Russian, or garden chamomile (Anthemis nobilis) is a low-growing perennial, often used as a ground cover or lawn replacement. When selecting chamomile plants for tea, be sure to select German chamomile and not Roman.
How to grow chamomile
Chamomile (or camomile) prefers full sun to partial shade and moderate amounts of water. It can be grown in a container or directly in the ground. Chamomile is best planted in protected areas if temperatures are expected to rise above 100 degrees F. Chamomile generally does not require supplemental fertilizer. Chamomile is best grown from established plant cuttings or division, but it can be grown from seed. Chamomile seeds require light to germinate, so they should not be covered. Seeds take 1 or 2 weeks to germinate. Plants should be cut back 3 to 5 inches every so often to prevent excessive size and legginess. Trimming will also promote flower production. If growing for tea, flowers should be removed (deadheaded) on the first day they bloom for the best flavor.
Chamomile pests & diseases
Chamomile is a sturdy, drought tolerant plant, but it may become susceptible to powdery mildew, white rust, leaf blight, aphids, thrips, and mealy bugs if is weakened by lack of water or other environmental stresses. Several beetles find chamomile flowers to be as appealing as we do, so it is important to wash plants off when harvesting, to avoid contaminating your tea.
The bad news
Just when you had every reason to add chamomile to your garden, it is important to know that it is not for everyone. All the chemicals that make chamomile so helpful can also make it harmful. People who are sensitive to ragweed or chrysanthemums may develop allergic reactions to chamomile. Also, since chamomile has been shown to stimulate uterine contractions, it should be avoided by pregnant and nursing women.
You can dry chamomile flowers in an old pillowcase, the same way you can preserve lavender. Dried flowers should be stored in an airtight container out of sunlight.
So, put the kettle on and have yourself a piping hot cup of soothing chamomile tea.
Spiders in the garden may provide a frightful shock for those on the phobic end of the arachnid spectrum. For the rest of us, seeing spiders indicates a healthy ecosystem with plenty of biodiversity. How do spiders help your garden and which ones should you be worried about?
What makes a spider a spider?
Spiders are not insects, even though they have exoskeletons, jointed bodies, and appendages, and they breath air. Spiders and insects are both arthropods. The difference is that spiders have six or eight eyes, eight legs, and fangs that inject venom, which insects do not. Also, spiders do not have antenna. Spiders and scorpions are both members of the arachnid class. Spiders have a more centralized nervous systems than other arthropods, and they move their limbs using hydraulic pressure, rather than muscles. The webs we see are produced from glands that make silk that is spun into threads using spinnerets. There is a wide variety of web sizes, shapes, and styles within the spider community. Below is a list of the common types of spiders found win North America:
Except for one herbivorous species that was identified in 2008, all spiders are predators. These beneficial insects hunt and feed on insects and other spiders, and some of the larger varieties hunt lizards and birds. (Yikes!) The familiar sticky webs are not the only way spiders capture their prey. Some species use a lasso, while others mimic their prey to get close enough to grab them, and others actually chase their prey down before injecting them with paralyzing venom.
After capturing a meal, spiders must inject victims with digestive enzymes, because spider guts are too narrow to process solids - they actually have filters on their faces that prevent solids from getting in! Some species of spiders form social groups of up 50,000 individuals, but most spiders are solitary. Most spiders only live for two years, but some captive species have lived as long as 25 years. According to Wikipedia, “Male spiders identify themselves by a variety of complex courtship rituals to avoid being eaten by the females.” (Sorry guys, I couldn’t resist.) Anyway, recent research has shown that spiders eat more than insects and other spiders: many species also drink nectar! And young spiders that eat pollen have been shown to have higher survival rates! Some spiders are scavengers, eating dead insects that they find. Captive spiders have even been observed feeding on egg yolk, sausages, milk, bananas, and marmalade.
Scary looking or not, spiders help us fight many garden pests without the use of chemical pesticides. In fact, spiders are believed to be the most beneficial insect we can have in the garden! Spiders commonly eat earwigs, roaches, flies, moths, mosquitoes, aphids, caterpillars, cucumber beetles, grasshoppers and crickets, pine sawflies, redhumped caterpillars, armyworms, leafhoppers, spider mites, thrips, leaf miners, spruce budworms, tobacco budworms, sorghum midges, and fleahoppers. (It may have been easier to list what they don’t eat!) Spiders also eat other beneficial insects, but the damage they prevent far outweighs the damage they do.
Most types of spider venom are not dangerous to people, with the few exceptions listed below. In fact, research is being conducted to explore the use of spider venom as both pesticide and medicine.
While spiders are a great addition to any garden or landscape, there are a few exceptions. Black widow, recluse, and funnel spider bites can cause life-threatening reactions. That being said, only 100 deaths occurred in the 20th century due to spider bites, while 1,500 people died during the same time frame from jellyfish stings. Weird. Anyway, most spider bites are much like bee stings - they hurt like crazy, at first, and then go away. You can reduce the discomfort by cleaning the area, applying antiseptic, and then ice to the area. If unusual or severe reactions occur, get to the hospital as quickly and as safely as you can or call poison control (in California, that number is 1-800-222-1222). If you don’t have the number for Poison Control in your contacts, you should do that now. Really. I’ll wait. By the way, if you do get bit by a spider, try to capture it for identification. Your doctor will thank you.
There are very few poisonous (to people) spiders in California. These include:
If you see spiders in the garden, be glad for the help they provide. And consider this:
In the 16th century, monks would go out into forests and fields to collect spider webs to use to make gossamer canvases for religious paintings. (And we thought plastic wrap was hard to work with…)
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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