(Beyond Pesticides, October 23, 2007) On October 18, 2007, groundskeepers at one of New York City’s largest apartment complexes released 720,000 ladybugs over its 40 acres of landscaping as an alternative to spraying insecticides to control mites and other insects that feed on its flowers, shrubs and trees. The bugs, hippodamia convergens, were harvested in Bozeman, MT, shipped in bags of straw and released by hand at the Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village complex in Manhattan’s East Side.
The complex’s owner, Tishman Speyer, purchased the ladybugs from Planet Natural, an online retailer, for just under $6,000 and is expected to save money over the cost of the insecticides. The ladybugs are available to the public through the Planet Natural website at $16.50 for 2,000 (shipping included).
Eric Vinje, owner of Planet Natural, explained to the Associated Press that he buys from ladybug collectors working the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains in Oregon, California and Montana. In Bozeman, he keeps the ladybugs alive in large refrigerators where the temperature is kept to about 35 degrees. Under these conditions, they go “dormant,”, using up their fat stores without eating anything, and staying alive for about five months.
In the shipping boxes, they slowly awaken while flying to a buyer’s destination. By the time they reached Manhattan, “they were lively and ready to eat anything that was not too quick for them,” said Mr. Vinje. Buying the bugs means Mr. Speyer can avoid using chemical insecticides. “In most cases, we reach for a can of pesticide — and we kill not only the ‘bad guys,’ but the ‘good guys,”‘ Mr. Vinje told the AP. “All we’re doing here is putting more of the ‘good guys’ to tip the scale, to get some kind of pest population control.”
Mr. Vinje says 720,000 ladybugs are about the right number to clean up the 40-acre New York complex. Each insect can take care of a piece of land measuring about 19-by-19-inches. A ladybug can eat up to 50 pests a day, plus insect eggs. As they reproduce, “they’ll do their thing out there!” Mr. Vinje promises. Even the ladybug larvae will keep eating.
Apartment residents and nearby neighbors need not worry about confronting swarms of ladybugs. The species known as a seasonal nuisance pest is the Asian lady beetle, Harmonia axyridis. In their native habitat, large aggregations of these lady beetles often hibernate in cracks and crevices within cliff faces. Unfortunately, when cliffs are not prevalent, they seek overwintering sites in and around buildings. The ladybugs native to the U.S. prefer to stay outdoors.