Archive for: September, 2010

Recent Biocience Blog Carnivals

Sep 08 2010 Published by under Biology & Environment

While I'm still fiddling with my blog's settings, you can find lots of good reading in recently published blog carnivals:

6 responses so far

UPDATE: Commenting Temporarily Suspended

Sep 01 2010 Published by under Miscellany

You may have noticed that commenting is turned off here at Scientopia.  That's to take a bit of strain off the site's server. A fix is in the works, so please bear with us in the mean time.

Thanks to MarkCC's heroic work over the past week, Scientopia has successfully been moved to new servers. Comments are back on.

Comments are off for this post

Stinkbug Invasion

Sep 01 2010 Published by under Biology & Environment

Healthy Sweet Alyssum

One of my favorite flowering plants is Sweet Alyssum: it's low maintenance, heat and drought tolerant, and flowers year-round (at least here in Southern California).  Since it grows low to the ground, it makes a nice addition to the pots with seasonal bulbs, which would otherwise just be bare dirt for a good part of the year.

Because Sweet Alyssum is usually so easy to grow, I was a bit surprised to see that in several of my pots it was starting to look dried out and sickly. Even though there was a heat wave last week, my other potted plants look just fine, so lack of water was unlikely to be the problem.

On closer inspection of one of the plants, I noticed that it was swarming with little red beetles. My first thought was "Yay, ladybugs!",  since they are great for controlling insects pests like aphids.  But when I looked a bit closer, I noticed their markings were more ornate than the simple red-with-black-spots of ladybugs. And while the bugs were teeming on the Sweet Alyssum, other nearby plants appeared bug-free. What could they be?

Painted Bug (Bagrada hilarus) eating my Alyssum

Painted Bug (Bagrada hilarus) eating my Alyssum

After a bit of research I identified the critters as the Painted bug (Bagrada hilaris) or Bagrada bug, a type of stinkbug. It is an invasive species native to East and Southern Africa that first appeared in Los Angeles County in June 2008. Last year it reached the inland low desert. And now it's widespread in Southern California and western Arizona.

Bagrada bugs primarily eat Brassicaceae, a family of plants that includes cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, mustard, broccoli, cauliflower, radish, turnips, and kale.  Sweet Alyssum is an ornamental Brassicaceae, which explains why those plants (and only those plants) were infested.

Unfortunately Bagrada bugs are quite hardy, and resistant to most organic methods of control. According to the UC Riverside Center for Invasive Species Research the heaviest Bagrada infestations are in "organic farms, community gardens and residential vegetable gardens where little or no pesticides are used."  The easiest way to control them without pesticides is to remove the infested plants, cultivate the soil to kill the unhatched eggs, and squash any bugs that remain.

Lots of stinkbugs!

So that's what I've done. All my Sweet Alyssum is gone.  Fortunately I'm not growing any other members of the mustard family, and there aren't any reports of the pests attacking tomatoes or eggplant or zucchini or the remaining ornamental plants I have growing in my yard.

I probably won't try to grow any related plants in the future, since we live adjacent to a field with mustard plants growing wild. A natural reservoir for the pest.

But while my garden will easily recover, the rapid spread of Bagrada bugs has the potential to be a serious problem for Southern California's organic farmers. Hopefully, they won't end up on the state's 10 most (Un)wanted list.

All photos on this page by me. Click to see larger images.

More bug photos:

Note: Comments  are back open.

4 responses so far

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