It’s a Jungle in There

July 28, 2011 § 11 Comments

This blog post, planned for weeks, was supposed to be a warm and cosy one, coming to you from my kitchen. It was going to be about growing and pickling my own chillies, something I’ve been doing for years.

Jalapeno chillies: perfectly pickled

However, this comfortable, domestic idea was swept aside when, after noticing that the chilli leaves were a little mottled, I started looking at them with a loupe. I suspected an infestation of red spider mite (which loves the hot dry conditions in our conservatory). This tiny pest is usually deterred by frequent misting with water — but not in this case, it seemed. A closer look was required.

When magnified eight times, the surfaces of the leaves showed themselves to be thronged with livestock. I knew that there would be plenty of aphids (those are easily seen with the naked eye), but I could not see a single red spider mite — minute eight-legged characters that look like the tiniest ticks imaginable. However, rambling between the aphids were small green sausages on legs. Thrips! I had thrips! A new pest! It was exciting and disgusting in equal measure.

I can’t show you a thrip, as they are too small for my camera lens to capture, but I can show you the damage that their larval sausages do, when they rasp away at the leaves with their mouthparts.

Mottled leaf: all is not well

I’ve nearly defeated them by spraying the afflicted plants regularly with insecticidal soap, an organic pesticide suitable for soft-bodied pests. I don’t use any sprays in the garden, as matters there are generally kept under control by the higher-ups on the food ladder eating the lower-downs. And I don’t want to harm any beneficial insects. But, indoors is a different environment. Pests increase rapidly in the heat, and I don’t have birds, hoverflies, ladybirds or other predators to keep order.

Or do I? Recent leaf inspections have shown an increasing number of mummified aphids. A few weeks ago, I had noticed one of these characteristic items, which look like bronze aphid statues, on a chilli plant that was a gift from organic grower Madeline McKeever at Brown Envelope Seeds.

Bronzed aphid (please do click for a larger image!)

Aphids such as this have been parasitised by a tiny wasp. The female injects an egg into an aphid, and when the larva hatches, it consumes the insect from the inside out. Next, it pupates inside the empty body, and finally, hatches out, leaving a neat round porthole where it exits. Females lay 100 to 300 eggs during their two-week adult phase.

Parasitic mini-wasp

The wasp is so small that it could be mistaken for a fungus fly, but it flits around the leaves of a plant, rather than above the compost or soil.

At present, on the chillies that I treated only once or twice with the insecticidal soap, there are aphid mummies all over the undersides of the leaves, like precious bronze decorations.

Chilli leaf studded with mummified aphids

This is far more exciting than thrips, which fortunately haven’t reached this side of the conservatory yet. While taking the above photos, I came across a fly on one of the chilli plants. It has nothing to do with this story, but here are two portraits anyway, as I think it is a fine-looking creature. In the first one, it is eating something on the faded flower (aphid honeydew, perhaps), and in the second, it is rubbing its “hands” together in that annoying way that flies have.

Honeydew, anyone?

That was lovely! Must fly!


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§ 11 Responses to It’s a Jungle in There

  • Kate Bradbury says:

    Lovely blog! I am excited by your sausage thrips. I found a lacewing in my garden today, it was beautiful. It flew in my face. Then I went indoors and found a vine weevil on my patio window, which was not beautiful. I think flies are quite lovely, when they’re not on my dinner. Great photos x x x


    • Jane Powers says:

      I see lacewings occasionally in our garden, but I’d like more of them, as they are so elegant. And, I’m not sure if flies are lovely, but they certainly have a lot of interesting equipment on their heads!


  • Celeste says:

    Jane this is super blogging love it! And I have a pic to txt you of orchid bugs I’m not liking 😦


  • Alex M says:

    Love the photos Jane – I’ve often wondered what those little things were when I’m washing them off my salad. Mummified aphids no less. And now I know what a parasitic wasp looks like too. Next week on garden wars can you do leaf beet miner?! xx


    • Jane Powers says:

      Now that you mention it, I realise I haven’t a clue what a leaf miner actually looks like. I’m very familiar with their squiggly drawings, but I don’t know “who” is inside them!


  • Dee Sewell says:

    Lovely post Jane… you’ve prompted me to get out into my polytunnel at the very next opportunity, have a good old weed and a closer inspection of all my veg!


  • Great post and pics, Jane. It’s a bad end for the aphids to have a parasite injected into them like that and to then be eaten alive from the inside out. I wonder if in the history of the world has even one of these lilliputian pests made it to old age and then died in his or her sleep.

    Yes, I had some aphids on my chillies alright but they never got out of control (despite no treatments).

    The rose bush, that I never paid any attention to, meanwhile, was totally destroyed (buds that wouldn’t open; flowers that fell off). A great thing happened then one day when a blue tit came along and hovered over the bush for thirty seconds, daintily picking off many of the annoying greenfly. I was sure he’d keep coming back as there was so much food there for him – but he never did 😦


    • Jane Powers says:

      Oh dear, I’m sorry that your blue tit wasn’t more assiduous! The rose might have been suffering from lack of water: that could make the flowers fall off, and would make it more susceptible to pests as well.


  • Steven says:

    I like how you used the word “livestock”. I figured out the hard way that ants will “raise” aphids on your plants in order to get the sugary liquids they secrete. So keep an eye out for ants!


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