This article appears in the May 2016 issue of Potato Grower.
Everyone knows growers spend a lot of time and effort beating back their tiny, creepy-crawly friends. Some of those little guys can cause a lot of damage in a crop, and they make for some sneaky effective enemies. However, some insects can have favorable effects and even be valuable allies through the growing season.
- Lady Beetles
Commonly known by the entomologically incorrect “ladybug,” the several species of these little red-and-black guys are probably the most familiar insect predators in most crops, nurseries and urban areas. They feed ravenously on soft-bodied insects such as aphids, mealybugs and spider mites.
- Big-eyed Bugs
Commonly present throughout the Northwest, big-eyed bugs often arrive in potato fields in early spring and colonize quickly. Adults and nymphs feed by sucking body fluids from their prey, which include aphids, leafhoppers, lygus bugs and spider mites. These small insects are characterized, predictably, by their prominent eyes and brown or gray bodies, and are sensitive to many insecticides.
- Damsel Bugs
These slender insects have large wings and specialized front legs for grasping prey. They overwinter in protected areas near fields and generally colonize potato fields in late spring. Damsel bugs feed on aphids, spider mites, small caterpillars and eggs and larvae of the Colorado potato beetle.
- Parasitic Wasps
These tiny wasp species, known as parasitoids, are great performers against crop pests because they are specific to certain hosts, often laying eggs inside a host insect or egg. Wasps’ specific hosts include caterpillars, butterfly/moth eggs or pupae, or beetle eggs/larvae/pupae. This specificity of hosts allows growers to make sure they have the right parasitoid present when the hosts show up.
- Green Lacewing
These long, thin insects can be identified by their yellow-green coloring, long antennae and reddish eyes. Larvae feed on many soft-bodied pests such as spider mites, aphids, leafhoppers and thrips.