All about the bugs: the hunt for garden pests

By Lynette L. Walther | May 19, 2017
Photo by: Lynette L. Walther Often difficult to spot before it has done great damage, ttomato worms should be removed by hand.

We are outnumbered — big time. Scientists figure that of the diverse fauna on this planet (including everything from giraffes to largemouth bass to poodles to geckos to bedbugs and humans and on and on), some 90 percent of those species are insects. Wrap your head around that fact next time you are in the garden wrenching fat green tomato worms off the plants.

And even though their numbers are down by as much as 60 percent in some areas (mainly because of habitat loss and global climate disruption), this is not necessarily good news for humans. Those factors that have limited insect numbers could be affecting us next. Even so, insects continue to damage and destroy crops, forests and ornamental plantings and confound gardeners everywhere. More pesticides are not the solution, and often only exacerbate the problem. But with intelligent controls and a plan to cut down on the damage they do by literally heading them off at the pass, gardeners can be part of the process by joining a nationwide bug hunt.

“Have you ever longed to know when pests are going to attack your plants?” asks Growing Interactive, a leading garden app developer working on a major international citizen science project by collecting information about garden bug behavior with the aim of notifying gardeners when pests are heading their way.

The project, The Big Bug Hunt, invites gardeners from across the country to report sightings of bugs as they appear. Now in its second year, the project has already found patterns of when and how key pests spread — but more reports will speed up development of the final pest-alert system. Reports can be made via The Big Bug Hunt website: BigBugHunt.com

Growing Interactive is working in collaboration with world-class university researchers to develop the most advanced pest prediction system available. By combining reports made by gardeners with the latest developments in computer analysis, the project team can identify signature patterns of when and how pests spread. The aim is to provide gardeners with early-warning emails when pests are heading their way – great news for organic gardeners relying on preventive measures to outwit pests.

“Of course, cutting-edge research like this doesn't happen overnight and The Big Bug Hunt team has major plans for the coming year as they examine how different weather patterns affect the way pests spread, Project Coordinator Jeremy Dore explained. “Last year we received more than 11,000 reports and with The Big Bug Hunt now firmly established we expect to receive even more. The more reports we get, the stronger the data and the sooner we can turn the results into an invaluable service for gardeners.

“After just one year we’ve already significantly improved methods of predicting major pests, such as aphids,” Dore added. “By joining in with The Big Bug Hunt, gardeners have the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution towards tackling pests. A pest-alert system like the one we’re developing is within our grasp and stands to make organic control methods dramatically more effective.”

Any bug, from aphids to slugs (though technically not an insect, but rather a gastropod) to Japanese beetles, can be reported. The Big Bug Hunt is also tracking beneficial bugs, such as bees, currently suffering serious population declines, to learn more about their range and spread.

Getting involved in The Big Bug Hunt is easy and you don't have to register. Simply head to BigBugHunt.com to report a bug, which takes just seconds. The website includes detailed pest identification guides – with effective treatment and prevention ideas – and you have the option to sign up for updates, bug-busting emails and free downloadable charts.

So, what are you waiting for? Get out there, take a close look and report those pests and the helpful pollinators, too.

We have one ally in the war against Japanese beetles. See the tiny white dots on the shoulders of this beetle? They are the eggs of a tiny parasitic fly that will hatch out and devour this host insect. Let this beetle go to allow those eggs to hatch into more flies to combat even more beetles. (Photo by: Lynette L. Walther)
The arrival of these aliens is never welcome. Japanese beetles have only two natural enemies here — a tiny parasitic fly and the gardener. Hand-pick them from plants as soon as they are spotted, allowing those with tiny white dots on their shoulders to go free to enable the parasitic flies to hatch out and consume this and eventually other beetles. (Photo by: Lynette L. Walther)
Though technically not insects, slugs do their share of damage in the garden. They, too, are included in the Big Bug Hunt. (Photo by: Lynette L. Walther)
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