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BACKYARD BIOCONTROLS

You can take many approaches to prevent annoying or biting bugs from getting in your yard or house. Repellant comes to mind for keeping yourself protected if they do show up.

But you may not have to use as much spray if you remember that some bugs will eat each other. Let’s call them “good bugs.” Using them effectively and protecting their habitat can save you the cost of repellants and help preserve the environment. This is called biocontrol.

A ladybug walks down a leaf

Some good bugs live in our yards. In fact, most insects help people, plants and the environment, said Adam Dale, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of entomology. In nature, enemies — known to scientists as “predators” — of pests attack and suppress pest populations below damaging levels.

“Despite this, we regularly hear of and manage for insect pests that damage plants and our homes,” Dale said. “This is largely because urban areas are highly manipulated and disturbed by people, which often alters the ecosystem in ways that help pests thrive.”

For example, roads, parking lots and buildings can cause insect pests to develop more rapidly, reproduce more and survive better. That allows them to escape their natural enemies, he said.

A lacewing on a plant“Good bugs”  — including lady beetles, lacewings, big-eyed bugs and pirate bugs, among others — prey on the bad bugs, according to Hugh Smith, an assistant professor of entomology at the UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Balm, Florida.

UF/IFAS entomologists recommend integrated pest management — a combination of cultural, biological and chemical methods for effective, economic pest control with little impact on the environment.

Several studies have found that taking advantage of nature by allowing and promoting biological control can reduce pest abundance and plant damage.

Different insects bother people in different ways around your house. Mosquitoes and gnats can bite and otherwise annoy most people. Get rid of containers with water, which make for popular mosquito breeding grounds, and that will help alleviate that problem.

Fire ant bites just plain hurt.

Anyone who has lived in the Southeast long enough has personal experience with fire ants, that painfully burning sensation associated with stings after unknowingly stepping on a fire ant mound, said Faith Oi, a UF/IFAS associate Extension scientist in entomology.

“Is there a way to extend the time that fire ants are excluded from an area? Yes. By encouraging the self-propagation of biological control agents,” Oi said. “The biocontrol agents require the fire ants for survival.”

A pirate bug on a leafThree types of biological control agents can work well with an integrated pest management program for fire ants: phorid flies, microsporidians, and a virus, she said. The combination of biological controls with baiting will extend control by about twice the level of using only bait.

“Taking the ‘nuclear option’ and spraying everything will also kill the biocontrol agents,” Oi said. “Thus, the most effective approach to fire ant management is an integrated pest management program.”

And even though we’re talking about residential bug biological controls, a scientist at the UF/IFAS Indian River Research and Education Center in Fort Pierce offers sage advice for homeowners.

“In your backyard, there are good bugs in addition to bad bugs,” said Garima Kakkar, a UF/IFAS Extension fruit and vegetable agent. “It is important to discover the detective in you and search for good bugs and practice insect control methods that are conducive for survival of biocontrol agents.”