Garden Helpers: The Bees, the Bugs, and the Doodlebugs

Rose chafer larva ( Cetonia aurata  )

Rose chafer larva (Cetonia aurata)

Every garden has its share of insect activity. The only exceptions are in those places so heavily decimated by pesticides and herbicides that nature's pollinators and decomposers have either fled or cannot survive, even weeks or months after application.  What garden is complete without the gentle hum of insects, buzzing and chirping, going about their lives in their intrinsic ecological niche.  Earthworms and grubs (like the rose chafer larva *(Cetonia aurata))(1), till the soil, eating decaying material and converting it into usable resources.  While these larvae, pictured on the right, are beneficial and both mix the soil and break down decaying matter, they have been known to eat the roots of plants, should they run out of alternative food sources.  They are largely beneficial, though as with any being, if the supplies for sustained life are not provided or available, something has to give.  In this case, it's sometimes the plants.

Praying Mantis nymphs ( Mantis religiosa )

Praying Mantis nymphs (Mantis religiosa)

The praying mantis, is extremely beneficial to gardens, eating pests and general garden nare-do-wells.  They help control insect populations, eating wasps and beetles, the larger species even sometimes seen capturing and consuming lizards and hummingbirds (2).  After seeing the adult forms of these little ones, which were about the size of my pinky fingernail when the photo was taken, that is not the species we have here.  They're more likely to go after other small insects, like wasps, or bees. 

 

Honey Bee ( Apis )

Honey Bee (Apis)

Speaking of which, though previously discussed, bees are an intrinsic part of many species' reproduction.  While there are many species and delivery methods, bees are still greatly needed for their role in the greater ecology.  Intrinsically connected to the lives of certain species and several world cosmologies (4), the potential extinction of these beings is truly horrid to contemplate.  The causes for this decline include, but are likely not limited to "the spread of parasites and pathogens, loss of habitat, reduced availability or quality of food resources, climate change, poor queen quality, changing cultural and commercial beekeeping practices, as well as exposure to agricultural and apicultural pesticides both in the field and in the hive" (3).  Keep in mind that honey is produced to be the food source for larval-stage bees, just as royal jelly is produced to feed future queens.  This is the same principle as milk being produced for young mammals and consumed by humans in various capacities.  Also, while there are several substitution options, agave nector being a front-runner, there are medicinal and nutritional properties only found in honey, due to the pollen's blending with the bee's enzymes upon collection.  Honey has been a known healer and food source for millenia.  I would, however highly suggest obtaining yours from a source who genuinely cares about their hives. 

 Pill Bug / Roly Poly / Doodle Bug ( Armadillidium vulgare )

 Pill Bug / Roly Poly / Doodle Bug (Armadillidium vulgare)

The pill bug, or roly poly is not actually an insect, but rather a land-dwelling crustacean.  They behave rather the aforementioned earthworms and grub creatures, aerating the soil, and aiding in the decomposition of organic matter.  Also like other garden creatures, in the event that these food sources are exhausted, they tend to nibble young plants, roots, and leaves, sometimes fruits that have been abandoned by insects, as well (5).  Unlike some other terrestrial crustaceans, these creatures can and do roll into round balls when startled or scared, hence their name, "roly poly."  Additionally, should a garden have more of them than is desired, the easiest way to regulate population is, as in most cases, habitat disruption.  In this instance, it is a matter of clearing leaf and grass piles and moving any boards that might be placed across the ground.  They like being in the cool damp and eat where they live, hence the piles of decomposing plant matter.

Other garden friends will be discussed at a later time, but this is all for now.  Till next time.

Katheryn

Sources: 

1. Gardener's Larva Guide, http://maria.fremlin.de/stagbeetles/larva-guide/ *Let me know if this is the incorrect ID. The information is from the UK and I'm in California, USA.  Characteristics and appearance match, including small pink hairs and tendency to crawl on it's back.

2. Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa), https://www.insectidentification.org/insect-description.asp?identification=Praying-Mantis

3. Scott T O’Neal, Troy D Anderson, Judy Y Wu-Smart, "Interactions between pesticides and pathogen susceptibility in honey bees.," Department of Entomology, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE, USA, Available online 2 February 2018.   https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214574517302079

4. Spirit Hills Honey Winery, "Bee History," http://www.spirithillswinery.com/?page_id=189

5. SFGate, "Roly Poly Bugs in a Vegetable Garden," http://homeguides.sfgate.com/roly-poly-bugs-vegetable-garden-26822.html