Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Milkweed + Aphids = Ladybugs

Milkweed is well known as the host plant for Monarch and Queen butterflies. It is the only plant that their caterpillars can live on and so it is absolutely essential for their survival.

But milkweed not only attracts Monarch and Queen butterflies. It is also a magnet for a somewhat less charismatic insect. Aphids.



Here is one of the milkweed plants currently in my garden. All those little yellow bits are aphids, sucking insects which, in a heavy infestation, can devastate a plant.

The only thing good that can be said about aphids is that they provide tasty snacks for several predators. Including ladybugs.

Here is a member of my ladybug army making quick work of a few aphids on this plant.

Ladybugs, like the milkweed itself, come in different colors and color patterns. Here is a different type that is cleaning up this plant.

And here is yet another type that has its work cut out for it on this heavily infested plant.

Fortunately, it has some allies to help.

Though the ladybug army is badly outnumbered, there are implacable in their pursuit of aphids. Given a few days, they can gobble up amazing quantities of their favorite squishy yellow entree.

The milkweed, damaged by both the aphids and the caterpillars, will recover and in time will grow new leaves and become a nice bushy plant once again. In the meantime, they can look pretty nasty and they certainly don't add much beauty to the garden, but I grow them not so much for their beauty as for their usefulness to the butterflies that I want to see prosper. The fact that they also set the dinner table for the wonderful little ladybug beetles is simply lagniappe - one of the many pleasures of the pesticide-free garden.  

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