How Ladybugs Can Improve Our Parks

As we all know, traditional pesticides contain toxic chemicals including boric acid, capsaicin, methoprene, and zinc phosphate. These chemicals are harmful to public and environmental health. Studies have shown neurological and respiratory symptoms among farm workers exposed to toxic pesticides. They produce serious to the soil, water, and animal life that surround farms.

Fortunately, there are natural and more sustainable alternatives.

One of the more interesting sustainable alternatives we recently learned about is the small and colorful ladybug. The insects apparently got their name when European farmers prayed to the Virgin Mary for salvation while pests were destroying their crops and ladybugs appeared, saving the day for farmers by destroying the pests.

The Prospect Park Alliance is the latest city park to turn to ladybugs for help in controlling a new challenger: lace bugs. Asters, a certain type of flower, within the park were dying. Asters are an important perennial species and one the most common flowers in Prospect Park, often sporting purple or white flowers. Gardeners wanted an alternative to traditional pesticide because they were concerned that spraying to chemicals help asters could hit something else as well.

They first tried neem oil, a natural pesticide produced by the neem tree. But it was prohibitively expensive and time-consuming to apply. Ladybugs, on the other hand, do the legwork and are far less expensive—$150 for 72,000 of them. Gardeners did their homework to make sure that ladybugs would not out-compete other species, according to LJ Philp, Alliance Lead Gardener at Lakeside.

In just a few short weeks, the lece bugs had disappeared and the asters revived.

The Central Park Conservancy had turned to ladybugs for help several years ago. In 2013, the park used ladybugs to combat aphids—the pests that were the bane of those farmers in the Middle Ages. Aphids feed on sap and suck the life out of plants. The conservancy invested about $500 for 140,000 ladybugs. It usually takes a month or so to see results but they’re clear, with the negative effects of a thriving aphid population, such as withered plant leaves, decline.

North America is home to about 450 ladybug species—members of the beetle family— ranging in color from red to yellow and with varying amounts of spots. The nine-spotted variety is New York State’s official insect since 1989.

NYLCV supports these types of sustainable pest-control practices.