AUSTIN (KXAN) — Fed up with the aphid excrement glazed over your car? Well, at least one couple living in Austin was. They decided to take the issue into their own hands — or the hands of nearly 50,000 ladybugs, that is.
Kristina Modares, a real estate agent, and her boyfriend, Eric Mann, have lived in Austin for nearly 10 years. Though they have lived here a while, this was the first year they observed the sap-like substance, they said.
“We were like, ‘It’s not sap from the trees – it’s from all of the aphids,’” Modares said.
“It got to the point where we could barely open Kristine’s car door,” Mann said. “Me being the curious person that I am, I was like, ‘We’ve got to figure out how to fix this and see what’s going on,’” he continued.
Mann did some research and found ladybugs are a natural enemy of the aphid. So, they decided to buy 45,000 of them to hopefully reduce the infestation.
After Mann and Modares received the insects in the mail, they placed the ladybugs in the trees hosting the aphids.
“So it worked… We haven’t had the (honeydew) around our house in a while,” Modares said.
Ladybugs and aphids
“Ladybugs are actually predators,” Wizzie Brown, an entomologist with Texas A&M’s Agrilife Extension, said. “And it’s not just aphids. They will also feed on other small, soft-bodied insects that are related to aphids,” she continued.
By the time a ladybug reaches its fourth instar stage, two stages before it reaches adulthood, a ladybug can eat up to 40 to 50 aphids a day, Brown said
“So, they can help keep populations in check if we have them in the environment,” she said.
Is it risky to release bugs bought online into the environment?
Modares and Mann documented their experiment in a TikTok video, and the reaction in the comments was mixed. While some users praised their creativity, many admonished the couple for potentially releasing an invasive species into the environment.
Brown was not as concerned.
The ladybug the couple used – the convergent lady beetle – is found all over the United States, she said.
Additionally, purchasing insects online can be innocuous.
“Insectaries are going to know what they’re doing, what species they’re rearing. And there are regulations around a lot of this… you can’t ship plants or insects to certain areas that may have restrictions,” Brown said.
“If it’s a reputable company that you’re dealing with, they’re going to be following those rules and getting the proper clearance that they need,” she added.
A better solution
Brown did raise doubts about whether releasing ladybugs is an effective solution to reducing the aphid poop on your car.
“The problem that you can run into… when you release them, they stay in the area for a very short period of time. Then they disperse and fly away,” she said. “They’re going to be controlling (aphids) somewhere, but it just might not be you getting the benefit.”
Brown said you might be better off hosing down the aphid-infested tree with water instead.
“With soft-bodied insects like aphids and related species, they are possibly going to have their exoskeleton damaged when you’re hitting them with that water spray (and) it knocks them off of the plant that they’re feeding on,” she said. “Plus, you’re watering the tree!”