Discovering a hidden haven in the Latrobe Valley, Victoria, Australia

Posts tagged ‘pest insects’

The dreaded dindymus versicolour

Harlequin bugs or Dindymus versicolour have been a spring and summer problem in my garden for a while now, but with good spring and summer rain this year they are doing a little too well. It seems they are playing havoc in a lot of local gardens right now as some of the most common searches that bring people to my blog involve variations on; dindymus, harlequin bug and ”Little red bug eating my plants”.

Adult Dindymus versicolour clustered on a rose leaf.

I’m also happy to say that I’ve learnt a think or two since I first naively posted about this little bug.

It wasn’t that long ago that I thought the Harlequin Bug was kind of attractive in its little soldier’s red coat and thought it was probably harmless.  After all, I could see that it was the caterpillars and the katydids that were doing the most obvious damage in the garden.To my own disgrace I later learnt that immediately obvious does not necessarily mean most significant. This is because Dindymus is a sneaky little sap sucker.

But I am surprised to find that there is still not a lot of information readily available about these bugs on the net, at least not in an easy to understand format in relation to gardening. Much of what I can find is either quite scientific or more people asking what they are and how to stop them eating their plants.

So, I thought I’d put together a collection of the bits and pieces that I have learnt. I am no scientist, so if anyone can see that what I’ve said is factually incorrect, please feel free to point it out! Additional references would be great too.

Identification

The Harlequin Bug I am referring to here is Dindymus versicolour and it is an Australian native. It is listed as a native pest species on the PaDIL biosecurity website found in NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania. Because the common name is the same, it has been mixed up with Murgantia histrionica from Mexico. Both are of the Hemiptera order. Dindymus versicolour is of the sub order heteropter, which is the ‘true bugs’. Some more information about this order of insects can be found here at the CSIRO website .

Mating pair and a young harlequin bug on a sunflower.

The photos give you an idea of their general appearance with black, red and orange/yellow making up their distinctive ‘harlequin’coat. Their undersides are a pretty green, sometimes with some yellow. However, there may be some colour variation.

The female is the larger of the species and they couple end to end while mating. Very young ones may just be red with a black spot and a little white around the margins. At a very cursory glance they can be mistaken for a ladybug.

Young harlequin bugs on a rose leaf.

Behaviour

For anyone looking at these little bugs in the garden and wondering if they are a potential problem or not the answer is a resounding ‘Yes!’

The Harlequin bug does not take great big obvious bites out of anything, it hides and sucks the life out tender stems (and fruit). Look for stem damage and wilting flower buds and fruit. In my garden I have observed them in greatest numbers on Callistemon, Australian native hibiscus, nasturtium, tomatoes, and hollyhocks. They have also been in numbers on sweetcorn, sunflowers, sage and roses.

visibly damaged tomato stems and one of many harlequin bugs from last summer.

These are one of the few bugs to actively hide from potential predators. If you watch them carefully you will notice that when they are not feeding they will stay in sheltered positions.  If they are caught out in the open they will dive behind leaves and stems as you approach. They don’t go far and sneak back out when you stop moving.

One or two bugs on their own won’t do much harm, but the sad reality is that this is often not a bug that comes in ones or twos. Not for long if you plant a tasty crop anyway. In numbers they can overwhelm tender plants, particularly nice juicy ones having a growth spurt.

Predators

I can’t find much information on the subject of predators. I haven’t observed anything eating these bugs and given the quantities they appear in, it seems natural predators don’t readily keep them in check. I think the question of predators is an interesting one. As they are a native species I would think something out there would have evolved to think they are tasty. Or have we wiped out their natural predators? This is a subject I’d like to learn more about!

Control

I avoid spraying with chemicals but these bugs have a tough protective coated shell which means that they can resist most sprays anyway.

The only sure-fire way I learnt to deal with them was thanks to ‘Gardening Australia’ and is surprisingly quite simple. It’s ordinary dish washing liquid mixed with water…or in the classic words of former presenter Peter Cundall:

“…you’ve discovered the supreme Australian pest, the harlequin bug. I call them “B doubles”, the way they get around when they’re courting. How can you kill them, because they’re covered with a kind of a wax, and that actually repels normal sprays. The answer, believe it or not, is to get the cheapest possible detergent and make a very strong solution with water and spray it on the clusters in the morning when they’re out in the sun. It gets into their breathing tubes at the sides of their, body blocks them up and they are so brilliantly dead.”

From ‘Gardening Australia’ TV show episode 39 transcript.

I prefer  to make up the solution in a small bucket and pick them off if I can so I don’t accidentally get other insects with the spray, but sometimes I will spray if they are looking to be getting really out of control. So I make sure that the detergent I am using is as environmentally friendly as possible so that any residue if I do spray is not causing further problems.

Happy gardening, I hope your good bugs and many and your pest bugs few!

Heidi

Where was I?

Yes I’m still here…but thinking of changing the name of my blog to ‘A Yearly Post from a Gippsland Garden’.  It would be more appropriate perhaps.

To be honest the joy of a trip overseas was followed up by a very melancholic few months. It took me by surprise, but thankfully I’m feeling bright eyed and bushy tailed again now 🙂 Thanks to those lovely bloggers who dropped me a line to say ‘Hi’…it might have taken until now to get a response out of me, but I appreciated it very much!

Well, it’s heading into late spring in the Gippygarden and it has been a wet one! The pattern seems to be four days rain then a day or two of blazing sunshine, so you can imagine what the garden is like. The weeds have never been happier. Thankfully some of the intentional plantings are pretty happy about it too and the garden is lush if unruly.

My personal bane the Harlequin Bug (dindymus versicolour)  is also pretty chuffed about all the lush new growth. So my post work relaxation routine seems to consist of carrying around a bucket of soapy water and picking off the bugs to drop into it. I can be heard muttering darkly to them as I find them clustered on my roses. Yes it’s a bit gruesome, but it is the only thing that seems effective without using toxic sprays that will equally hurt the good bugs (the soapy water that is, not the muttering).  It is requiring quite a bit of vigilance. Every day there are plenty of new bugs and my ultimate aim is to keep the population down before my tomatoes grow and produce ripe fruit.

No precious tomatoes for you, nasty little buggies...

In other garden news the garlic I planted in the garden bed has stunned me by growing better than what I potted up, which is a surprise, particularly when it has been so wet. None of it is growing fantastically, but it is all still alive and growing reasonably well.

Some garlic around Christmas...perhaps.

Lately I’ve been focusing on digging some more vege beds and planting for the bees, but more on those later. I’ll leave you with a couple of current bee favourites for now…

Bees love Borage and so do I. Who could resist that colour?!

Not a good perspective shot, but this is a tiny native bee. It is about a third of the size of a honey bee and is clearly enjoying our callistemon!

See you soon,

Heidi

Too Many Tomatoes!

From that header you might think I’m about to to gloat…or even complain about a glut of produce.

Not so.

I have (quite inevitably really) learnt the hard way what happens when you get ahead of yourself and your gardening experience.

Too many tomato plants + not enough experience = not so many lovely ripe tomatoes!

Don’t get me wrong, we have not been bereft of tomatoes. In fact, the cherry tomatoes have been keeping us in good supply from quite early in Summer and are still going strong well into Autumn.

A truss of tiny 'Wild Sweeties' which are each about the size of my little fingertip.

There is nothing quite so lush and productive in the garden at the moment as my Wild Sweeties and Tommy Toes. But the wonderful varieties of larger tomatoes I planted have not done so well.  Purple Cherokee, Black Prince, Amish Paste,  have all gone by the by. Black Russian and Burnley Sure crop got off to a great start but are now barely hanging in there. Tigerella produced well at first and fought valiantly to survive, but she’s done for. Why? Well, apart from my general ignorance, these have been the biggest issues…

1. I never did get just how big those tiny little seedlings were going to grow. Hence the stakes I used were too small, bendy and weak for the task. Naturally I followed up my folly by trying to re-stake the plants and killed a couple by stabbing them through the heart. OK, roots then.

2. I planted too many tomatoes too close together. Add a bit of warmth, a bit of damp and…you get the picture…another couple bite the dust.

3. These &*%@#* bugs

Caught in the act! An adult Harlequin bug scampering over my tomatoes!

Just last January I was wittering on about how I have Harlequin bugs (Dindymus Versicolour) in my garden but that they don’t seem to do much damage. How wrong could I be?! I just hadn’t found their favourite snack yet! At first I worried about them spoiling the fruit (which they do with joyful abondon) but it took a while to twig that they were sucking the life out of the stems too. Good grief, what little horrors they are!

If I’m honest my gardening hygiene wasn’t what it should be either. I wasn’t quick enough to monitor, pick off and dispose of spoiled fruit, so this did give the bugs a foothold that I’ve been sorely regretting. I’ve picked up my game and this has helped, but now the season is coming to an end so I’m left with looking to improve my skills for next year.

I have also been trying to research  organic ways to control the Harlequin bugs with little avail. Like many shield and stink bugs they respond to a passing shadow by scampering off to hide, so they are hard to get hold of for a good squishing. Home made White Oil seems to have helped a bit,  it’s not great on the tomatoes in sunny warm weather.

So, if anyone has any good organic ideas  that aren’t going to hurt  the bees and the butterflies I would love to hear them!

Some happy Wild Sweeties...the one tomato I placed in the herb garden is doing just fine...I think there might be a clue there!

Have a lovely week,

Heidi

Katy Did It!

The good news is that the aphids are all but gone. The little wasps are still busy doing their gruesome alien emergence thing, but that’s fine with me because it works. No chemicals and (very nearly) no aphids. Lovely.

The bad news is that no flotilla of ladybugs appeared. I’m starting to wonder if the little wasps are too much competition for them. Something I read (can’t remember where now) did say that the parasitic wasps were a more effective biological control for aphids than ladybugs or lacewings. I wonder if being out-competed is the real cause for the loss of my ladybug population.

I’m going to have to look into that, but today I’ve been on an identity search for prime rose chewing suspect number one. Did you see her perched there amongst the roses?

Who is this fiend?

Because I work hard (stand back and let nature take it’s course)  to avoid using insecticides on my plants, the occasional bug does come along and do some damage. It’s never as bad as you might think and I only loose the occasional bloom. I think that is a small price to pay to have the bees, the butterflies and the creepy little parasitic wasps visit.

But I think this critter has been taking big mouthfuls out of some of my blooms and I’ve been trying to figure out who she is since January.

A harlequin bug copping the blame

In January I was still considering blaming the Harlequin bugs (Dindymous Versicolour) for my rose bud damage, but my suspicion was aroused when the creature  below was found near the scene of the crime.  I’ve since found it loitering nearby on two or three more occasions, so it has become prime suspect number one. It has taken me ages to figure out what it is exactly as it looked to me like a cross between a grasshopper and a leafhopper.


Caedicia simplex?

Turns out grasshopper was closest to the mark and some of you probably recognised it instantly as a Katydid, who has both British and Northern American cousins. I think this one is an Inland Katydid (Caedicia simplex).

Turns out they like to munch on flower buds. Hmm.

Is the Harlequin Bug really the garden thug I should be worried about?

The William Shakespeare bloom that was the bud covered in Harlequin bugs a couple of days ago. It is quite unharmed, but...

I’ve been spending far too much time with the bugs. I was caught yesterday standing in the middle of a garden bed apparently staring, with great absorption, at nothing at all.

It was in fact a bug. I was watching its habits. It was very interesting.

Adult Dindymus versicolour 28th Jan 2010

I think I’ve confirmed that the shiny little red critters and multicoloured adult bug of my last post are Harlequin Bugs (Dindymus versicolour) which are a species of ‘true bugs’ related to Dysdercus cingulatus – the Cotton Stainer Bug and a member of the Pyrrhocoridae family.

The Australian Biological Resources Study which is a great resource on these bugs tells me this is a family of pentatomomorphan bugs. Now there’s a word. And here I was thinking that trying to work out botanical names was going to give me a headache*

Morwell National Park (which is not too far from where I live) has a great database of all the fauna and flora in the park and you can find a photo of the adult and young Dindymus versicolour bugs here. These photos confirmed that both the critters I was looking at were indeed the same bug.

My little friend ‘Dindy’ can be trouble as, according the The NSW Dept of Primary Industries:

“Harlequin bug, Dindymus versicolor, may attack a wide range of crop and ornamental plants, such as cotton, pome fruits, stone fruits, fig, grape, kurrajong, strawberry, vegetables, wisteria, dahlia and violet. When they are present in large numbers their feeding makes growing tips wilt or spoils fruit.”     Prime Facts – Sheet No 508, May 2007.  http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au

My personal observations have revealed that:

a) They like to run around a lot.

b) They cluster together under leaves, adults seeming to babysit young.

c) They do a strange little ‘antenna dance’ when they meet each other doing their favourite activity, which is running around a lot.

d) They didn’t eat the first rose bud.

e) Nothing seems to be eating them.

f) The were found near the scene of the crime of this damaged rose bud…

Dindymus versicolour at the scene of the crime on a rose bud, but is he the true culprit, or has he been framed?

but then again so was this (hmm… more research ahead):

The real problem? I think it's a member of the leafhopper family and not sure if it's friend or foe.

and this…

The Passion Vine Hopper, which is a known sap sucker

In a nutshell it seems that Harlequin Bugs are a pest for commercial crops and the home garden. More bad news is that predators generally don’t find them to be a tasty snack as they smell and taste bad.

However some sources  suggest that they generally don’t do enough damage to be concerned about unless they appear in seriously large numbers, so there’s no need to panic and reach for the toxic spray. I do see the occasional badly damaged rose bud in my garden, but still have plenty of unharmed blooms to enjoy, and I haven’t yet seen with my own eyes who is actually doing the damage.  So I’m not risking killing hover flies and ladybugs to reduce the number of Harlequin bugs.

The Harlequin Bugs do have cousins in many parts of the world. I mentioned Bangchik’s  photo of red bugs on a Roselle from his ‘My Little Vegetable Garden’ Blog in Malaysia last time. Diana from Elephant’s Eye in South Africa also mentioned in the comments that she had a post recently on Shield bugs. Have a look at her amazing photos at Elephant’s Eye . Autumn Belle who keeps the wonderful  ‘My Nice Garden’ blog mentioned seeing them in her garden in Malaysia too.

I’d be very interested to know if you have them in your garden and if you have a photo to share. I’d be particularly interested to know if you have caught them in the act of eating one of your plants!

*I am pleased to announce that I now know my Brachyscombes from my Bracheantha. I think.

When a ladybird isn’t a ladybird at all!

I have been bemoaning the absence of ladybirds in my garden this year, so you will understand how excited I was when last night I spotted a flash of red on one of my roses. Unfortunately, when I stopped for a proper look, I saw a lot more little red bugs and it was clear that although these were indeed red with black spots, these were no ladybirds. They are about the size of ladybirds, but they were looking and behaving suspiciously like something else.

The image immediately put me in mind of the little red bugs I had recently  looked at on a Roselle in Bangchik’s lovely  ‘My Little Vegetable Garden’ blog which at the time had reminded me of one of my arch enemies in the garden. Hmmm…

Sure enough when I looked closer still I noticed that an adult Harlequin bug was amongst the little critters. Some comparisons between body shape and markings could be made. The little critters have red boddies and vague black markings on their bodies unlike the distinctly pattered adult Harlequin, but share the same body shape as the adult and a little white dot half way up the antenna (which you can’t really see in the photos, sorry).

I blame Harlequin bugs for some badly damaged rose buds in my garden, but in fairness I’ve never spotted them doing the damage. The bud they are clustered on in the photo looks none the worse for wear for them being there, but we shall see!

The large bug is certainly a harlequin bug!

Apart from the fact I’m not keen on insecticides and figure things generally balance themselves out bug wise in the garden,  I’m staying my hand to learn a few things…

Question one – Can I find any more evidence to confirm if these little beasts really are young Harlequin bugs?

Question two – Will they chew through my rose bud and prove they deserve my wrath?

Question three – Will a natural predator turn up and deal with them? If so who and how?

I’ll update as investigations develop!

Becoming a worm farmer

Part one – setting up the farm & moving the worms in.

The remaining parts of the worm farm. Enough to be going on with I think!

A few years ago we had a worm farm that produced beautiful ‘worm tea’ and vermacasts for the garden. Worm by-products are a fantastic rich fertiliser that doesn’t burn plants. I can’t remember why we stopped using it, but for some reason the worms were set free and the farm was packed away.

While pottering around recently I found the old plastic worm farm and have decided to give it a new lease on life. Sadly parts of it seem to have been ‘re-purposed’ or just plain lost over the years and it’s been left without it’s tap or the lid.  I had a scrounge around and came up with some things I hoped I could use to get it up and running again.

The worm farm needs to be in a fairly shady location. Shelter from frost is important too.

Before I could start moving the worms in I had to do something about the missing tap or the precious worm tea (and maybe the worms!) would leak out of the hole at the bottom. I needed something that could drain the liquid, but could also be sealed up. It had me stumped at first but then I thought the top of a lemonade bottle and it’s lid might just work…

The lemonade bottle top was just a tiny bit too big for the hole in the tub, but a very sharp knife helped widen it just enough. It fits pretty well, but not 100% snug, so I’ll keep an eye on how much leakage there is and put some silicone sealant around the hole if need be.

The old tap was narrower and used to get clogged up a bit so maybe this will flow better, if it lasts!

Once the tap issue was sorted, it was just a matter of setting up the worms new home.  As my daughter is currently keen on being an entomologist when she grows up I was lucky to have a willing helper.

Half a dozen pages of damp newspaper (worms don’t like anything dry!) went in to line the first ‘residential’ tray that was nestled above the drainage tray.

Here is the Box O’ worms! I bought them live from a hardware shop which my daughter found to be a very strange idea indeed. Compost worms are different varieties from standard earthworms which we are also lucky to have in the garden.

I’ve read recommendations that worm farms the size we are using should be started with 500 worms and others that recommend at least 1000 or even 2000. We’ve just got 500 and the hope that in a few weeks they will be happy enough in their new home to make more worms!

Below my daughter is helping spread the worm mixture gently across the tray. They go in complete with the organic matter they were boxed with to help them settle into their new home and have somewhere to hide. Worms like hiding so much we thought our box of worms had no worms at first!

If you look really closely you will see that there is more than one worm!

Every bit of information on worm farms seems to recommend only giving them a little food at first, but they don’t tend to quantify what a ‘little’ is, so we guesstimated about a cup worth of compostables, mainly old potato peelings and banana skins.  The Gardening Australia fact sheet on worm farms recommended banana skins, so hopefully we’ll be hearing contented munching noises soon!

At this stage the worms should not need feeding again for a least a week as they will be busy settling in. Definitely don’t feed worms meat or meat tainted scraps and limit use of onion or citrus in a worm farm.

Last of all we added a blanket for the worms – another layer of damp newspaper. The whole farm can be covered with wet hessian or carpet if it’s getting really hot.

I checked our worms a few hours after setting them up and already they are moving about the new food scraps, so I’m guessing they are hungry! We will be checking on them each day to see how they are going and to make sure that their home does not dry out.

I’m not sure what to do for a more long term solution for the missing lid, but my temporary solution was to out an old sign across the top and weigh it down with the spare worm  farm tray. I’ll scrounge up something more permanent soon.

Pest update

I found out what these pesky little critters were. They are a native ‘true bug’ Scolypopa australis with the common name ‘Passionvine Hopper’ . They love sucking the sap from creepers and other plants (like buddleia) that produce nice juicy new shoots.  Interestingly when I trimmed out the canopy of the buddleia noticed a lot less of these and some contented looking Red Wattle Birds.  You have to  love natural biological controls!

Last but not least, one of my favourite roses…

Double Delight