How do you combat a vampire-like bug that sucks the life out of plants? A bug that can multiply with tremendous speed because many of them are born pregnant? Faced with this daunting challenge, the Conservancy brought in a little help to combat a potentially big problem. And at just a couple of millimeters each, our helpers are extremely little: ladybugs.
On July 31, we released 140,000 (or two gallons) of ladybugs into Central Park gardens to combat aphids, an especially aggressive pest. Ladybugs (technically beetles, not bugs) are natural predators of aphids, which can wreak havoc on a landscape's plants. Ladybugs will eat honeydew, nectar, or pollen if they have to, but aphids are their preferred meal and ladybugs need to eat them to reproduce. The Conservancy expects the offspring of these ladybugs to help curb the spread of aphids: up to five generations of ladybugs can be born in a single season, and those native larvae, with their voracious appetites, will feed on nearby aphids.
When it comes to plants, aphids are like vampires: they suck the life out of plants by draining sap, leaving them withered and flowerless. The bugs also spread plant viruses, like Potyviruses, a large group of viruses that can have a significant negative impact on plant growth. The bugs and the viruses can spread throughout Central Park and the region beyond.
A healthy landscape can tolerate some aphids. Like with all pest management, our aim isn't to eliminate the threat but control it. Aphids can be very difficult to control because they have a "telescoping population," meaning many of them are born pregnant. And many of the pregnant bugs within those pregnant bugs are pregnant themselves. You can imagine how quickly an aphid population can grow.
Ladybugs are an environmentally friendly and cost-effective way to protect Central Park's gardens, from the Conservatory Garden in the north to the Olmsted Flower Bed by the Mall. The ladybugs we've released, called Convergent Lady Beetles are one of the most common in America and are a variety native to the Park. Our horticulture staff will continue to monitor the populations of aphids and ladybugs to make sure a healthy balance is maintained.
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