Day 29-Ladybird,Ladybird…

“…fly away home, your house is on fire, your children all gone”

Day 29 started much the same as all the 28 days that had come before. Get up, make children breakfast, feed cat, put washing on, make coffee, feed ladybirds…wait, feed Ladybirds?Ok, so that is a new addition to my morning routine. Let me explain.In the slump that followed the referendum result  I had turned to the internet for a bit of retail therapy. Butterfly houses were sold out, and not due back in stock any time soon.Ladybird kits ,however, were still available.

2 days ago my ‘delightful’ Postman (I hope the sarcasm is not lost in typing) threw my eagerly awaited post-brexit -Amazon-comfort purchase across the threshold of my porch. Yes, thats right, threw. My…I mean, OUR…Ladybird ‘ Viewarium’ had arrived. I danced across the kitchen exclaiming ‘its here,its here’ whilst F hastily finished his cornflakes to escape the ‘mad bug woman’ (i.e. me), muttering “what have you bought now?” as he pulled on his wellies.

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1 day ago, my ‘cheerful’ postman (sarcasm ,again. ) threw my ladybird larvae across the doorstep. ‘There are live creatures in here’ I yelled at the reversing post van ‘it says so on the envelope’.

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We…er, well, mostly I, set up the ‘viewarium’ and then went out to hunt in the garden for aphids. Nothing. Not a single one. I then had a brain wave. Check the veg patch. Just across the road from the farmhouse, F’s father has a ‘kitchen garden’ with all manner of fresh, seasonal veg. Broad bean plants are amongst the current crop and where there are beans, there are usually Black Bean aphids. Sure enough, I hit the jackpot.

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The aphids weren’t alone .Several black ants were crawling over the aphids. Aphid and ants have a ‘symbiotic’ relationship. In return for guarding the aphids against predators (e.g. lacewing and ladybirds) the ants receive ‘honeydew’. This is a sticky substance secreted by the aphids, which feed on plant sap. In effect, the ants farm the aphids. In some instances, the ants actually ‘milk’ the aphids – eliciting honeydew let down by stroking the aphids with their antennae. Farming of insects, by insects!

I gently removed the ants from the stalk before settling it into the tank. I gingerly added the larvae, one by one, using tweezers to lift up the shreds of paper they were clinging too before placing them onto the leaves. I left the predator and prey to become ‘acquainted’ overnight.

 

This morning I checked on the tank in case there had been any escape attempts. My heart leapt into my mouth as I saw what I thought were all the larvae out of the tank, lying unmoving. I can’t have killed them all already, surely???Fortunately it turns out  that spilled Nyger seed looks remarkably like ladybird larvae. Phew.

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Hopefully the girls will be a bit more interested in our houseguests when they become ladybirds. I’m very much looking forward to releasing them into the garden, and hope they will survive and breed as adults.