Garden Update – The Hoverflies Descend

To add a little light fluff to the grind of recent posts, I thought I would introduce a quick blog section (“General”) with current activities, learnings and/or seasonal insights….. and perhaps some nonsense to lighten the mood….

With starting the Terra Perma Permaculture Design Certification Course, I’ll be offline-ish for the next few weeks, but will attempt to pick out some of the critical points for discussion in blogs over the following few weeks.  I’m currently completing the proof reading of the Course Manual and it looks like I will take weeks to recover from the deluge of information!

I have also updated my “Events, Activities and Journey Diary” page to reflect exciting news on my “further studies”.

Onto the light fluff then…..But first, because I just can’t avoid a few facts:


The Hoverfly, Hover Fly, Flower Fly, (some sub-families are also referred to as Drone Flies)

Scientific Classification

(Source)

Key points –

  • Adults eat nectar and as a bonus complete the role of an important pollinator (second only to wild bees).  The adults also eat the honey dew produced by the aphids or
  • Some larvae eat aphids, thrips and other plant sucking insects; other larvae eat decaying matter in the soil, ponds or streams; and some even live in ant colonies scavenging food.
  • They are harmless to most animals even though they mimic wasp and bee markings to protect themselves – called Batesian Mimicry (harmless creature mimicking a harmful species).
  • Plants attracting hoverflies – alyssum, brassicas, statice, buckwheat, chamomile, parsley, and yarrow.  (But we have found “have aphids, will get hoverflies” and “have flowers (they seem to particularly like the native flowers??) and aphids, will keep hoverflies”)
  • Flight pattern – hovering in one spot; the moving suddenly forwards, up, down or sideways (typically just as you take the photo!); and then hovering again.
  • 8 mm – 20 mm in size.
  • In Australia there are around 170 species.
  • Some male hoverflies have been seen to get territorial of their airspace and defend it doggedly!
  • Tip for beginners – bees and wasps have four wings, flies have two.

(Sources – Source 1; Source 2; (The Garden Guardians; Davenport, J.; 2006)) and see this link for some super photos of Brisbane based Hover Flies.)


If you watch Dr Who…. then imagine The Master (but female and on the good side! So not so much like the Master at all….) at that moment when the Toclafane descend (also hum “Here come the drums” or follow the link to complete the mood. Replace the word “Earthlings” with “Garden Pests”.) and you will have a vision of me, standing on the back deck, as the predators descend….

If you don’t watch Dr Who…. then perhaps think of the exhilaration when you realise spring has sprung and you’ll get the idea (if slightly less dramatically!) Or see the above link, but be warned – Spoilers sweetie.

Get on with it Soil Hugger!


 

The sun is out, the hover flies have descended and the camera has been in action….

1 copy 2 copy 3 copy  5 copy

6 copy 4 copy 8 copy

Kale Tree (8-9ft tall) is a party shared by many – a swarm of hoverflies, ladybirds x 2, spiders…..

All at the party

Hoverfly vs Hoverfly on the Spring Onion Flowers – it turns out they defend their flowers too, but I did not confirm if they were male or female!

hover versus hover

Bee vs Hoverfly on the Spring Onion Flowers (Turns out the Hoverfly gives way!)

hover versus bee

Giving you an idea of about 1/10th of the swarm: (and learning if I can get videos to work on this platform! And you thought I was joking when I talked about a kale tree! The Guru has suggested that, after my Dr Who analogy, I should add “Prepare to be underwhelmed” as it does not really stack up to Mr Moffat’s directing skills nor the Toclafane descending! A gentle wind, the sky does not open and “it’s nothing a cork hat won’t fix!”)


Other pest control creatures joining the party…

1. The Larvae – All loving the feast.  Tricky to identify and I admit to just taking an educated guess (as the same creature is labelled under different names in different references! Curses!), but typically any wriggler found in amongst pests and not immediately adjacent to a munched part of leaf (or still munching with a guilty expression on their little face!) can be assumed to be a garden predator and should be reverentially left in peace.

Well developed lacewing larva wearing its “light weight” camouflage!

poss lace wing larva

This guy (even if a little out of focus – from trying to avoid the paparazzi) does not look half so silly as some on the net…. (Source)

Here’s a younger lacewing larva that we managed to spot under the microscope:

1499204210647

An interesting thing I learnt about lacewing larvae from my hours watching the fascinating little critters are:

  1. They have three sets of two legs, each set coming from a separate segments of their upper body, but no more legs for the length of their lower body.  This is typical for distinguishing some common helpful insect larvae from caterpillars (which have legs all the way down).  Fly larvae typically have no legs at all and are a mixed bag on the predator front.  I still like my “no munch” classification system for simplicity.
  2. They have an anchoring sucker type appendage at the end of their tail (for keeping hold of the leaf in windy or gravitationally challenging situations) which seldom seems to function helpfully…. they seem to pull and pull with their legs stretching their bodies out long and thin, until the brain kicks in and they think to adjust the anchor….. at last they can move forward.
  3. They use their pincers singly to tear at the pupa casing to get into the whitefly, and then they seem to then latch on with both pincers and mouth to suck the fluid out until the pupa is flat and dry.

The following video hopefully gives you an idea of what I am talking about and why I spend hours capturing this tiny, but horror movie inspiring world (loving the video thing!):

He sat there for 15mins before moving onto the next pupa.

The below guy is not as hung up on not being noticed.  He’s thought to be a Aphidoletes aphidimyza…. and, if not, at least this thinking provides a good excuse to learn about another predator.   Perhaps, from the name, he can be assumed to be slightly bad news for aphids!

Possibly hover fly larva “Aphidoletes” larvae are voracious native predators of over 60 species of aphids. The larvae are legless maggots about 3 mm long, and orange in color which make them easy to spot in foliage. Adults are small midges resembling mosquitos that are nomadic (they will seek out heavy aphid populations to lay eggs near) and can be hard to find. They are most easily spotted in the evening.” (Source)

Aphid Midge Life Cycle So watch out for all the tiny creature you swat at dusk because they look like a small mozzie…..The larvae of this guy is a lucrative commodity in the biological control industry with the pupa being shipped world wide!  They are often teamed up with the parasitic wasps for optimal effect. (Source) They are thought to be able to determine the relative aphid populations and lay eggs in proportion to the density of this food source. (Source)  Perhaps that is why there was only one on this leaf with the white fly?????

A Hoverfly larva snuggling up to parasitised aphid…. ahhh young love.someone's larva feasting

More evidence of a Parasitic Wasp at work with the mummified remains of the aphid – these are everywhere!other aphid parasite

Parasitised White Fly pupa (note: normal colour is pale whitish yellow as per eggs in upper right corner)

parasitised whitefly pupaWhat it looks like on video (no trick photography, he did this for hours…  before we put the leaf back in the garden):

 

 2. Adults on the prowl…

(1) The mozzie catchers – essential for summer! (2) Motorbike Frog, (3) Gecko

other Frog Gecko small

The gorgeous Lacewing!  lacewing

A Skink and Lady birds not missing out on the bounty (although I think the ladybirds are a step behind the hoverflies). And the willy wagtail.

Skink small 2   lady bird  willy wag tail small

Happy neighbours – the ladybird and the lacewing larva:lady bird and lacewing

 3. The mammal variety of pest control….

other moth hunters other moth in net     other moth in fish tankDSC01565small

Where there is a surplus of pests or they are too cute to undergo our natural or manual eradication program, the entertainment and pet care training regime takes over.  Great way to include kids in gardening as a first step as sometimes their attention spans are not long enough for a plant to grow and fruit.  Controlling caterpillars by a catch and limited feed program, then watching the pupa stages and finally the moth release can teach kids so much about the garden and the life within it.

A key topic (in my mind) in Permaculture is involving people and where better to start than getting kids investigating and asking questions to challenge the depth of our knowledge, the reasoning behind our ideas and helping us find new interpretations?


It has been an amazing couple of days exploring the wonders of nature’s pest control measures.  I hope you get the chance to do it in your garden – no matter what the size of garden, pest or predator, the balance nature works towards is fascinating (even if occasionally it does not meet our desired perfectly formed, protein free, salad leaf stereotype).

As mentioned before, I might be a little quiet over the next two weeks, but will try to do a couple of these “short”-ish posts which I will beef-up later to give you a taste of what I learnt (or perhaps more importantly what I have been taught – there is no guarantee of my picking it up on the day!) on my PDC adventure.  From the look of the manual, timetable and pre-reading, it should be an inspiring, exhausting and brain straining 10 days.

Until next time.

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