April 15, 2010 | Nick Daniel, Horticulturist

Have you ever wondered what types of insect pests we have in the Boettcher Memorial Tropical Conservatory, and how we deal with them? Well, for all of you entomologists out there today is your lucky day. I will briefly cover some of our pests and pest management strategies in the Boettcher Tropical Conservatory.

There are around 1.3 million described insect species in the world and in fact, insects make up a whopping 2/3 of described life on Earth. With such astonishing statistics, it's no surprise that there may be a few crawling, hiding, or flying around the Boettcher Tropical Conservatory. What are our main pests? Well, we have three heavy hitters...mealy bugs (Planococcus citri and Pseudococcus viburni), various species of hard and soft scales (family Diaspididea mainly), and cockroaches--but don't worry, you'll rarely see a cockroach during the day, as they are light sensitive.

How do we manage pest populations? The conservatory staff prefers not to use any caustic chemicals or insecticides in order to keep our tropical environment as safe and enjoyable as possible for all who come to see the collection. Our main source of insect control is other insects. Using predatory insects to control unwanted pests is an integral part of Integrated Pest Management.

To control mealy bug populations, we release a beetle related to lady beetles called Cryptolaemus montrouzieri about four times a year. These guys are often called 'mealy bug destroyers,' and are great allies in our fight against mealy bugs. To combat scale insects, we use another beetle, Lindorus spp. which parasitize the scales. I'm not sure if you have ever tried to scrub all of the scales off of a plant manually, but it's not exactly a great time, and our friends the Lindorus help cut back on our scrub time.

To keep the cockroach population under control, we use an increasingly popular method of control: beer and bread. We fill a mason jar about a quarter of the way full with beer and add a small chunk of bread to the beer. The cockroaches can't help themselves and dive right into the jar to enjoy some suds, and can't get back out and end up drowning. The beer trap method is also helpful in some situations in the home garden.

Other than using beneficial insects to control pests, everything we do is manual removal of the pests. Sometimes we can spray mealy bugs with high pressure water to blast them off of plants and kill them, and other times infestation may get so bad that we actually have to prune plants to remove highly infested branches. And there is always my personal favorite...grabbing that old toothbrush from the dentist's office and scrubbing pests right of the plants. They can never grow immune to mechanical methods of control.

Next time you are wandering through the Boettcher Tropical Conservatory, keep an eye for our insects friends and foes--look high and low, you'll see something I'm sure. In the near future I will go deeper into how we (the tropical team) use Integrated Pest Management beyond just the release of beneficial insects. See you soon. Cheers!


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