Spider mite predators serve as biological control

November 02, 2009

The control of spider mites, which damage tree leaves, reduce fruit quality and cost growers millions of dollars in the use of pesticide and oil spraying, is being biologically controlled in Pennsylvania apple orchards with two tiny insects known to be natural predators, according to Penn State researchers.

"Spider mites feed on the chlorophyll in the cells of leaves, damaging their ability to use photosynthesis," said David Biddinger, tree fruit entomologist and biocontrol specialist at the Penn State Fruit Research and Extension Center in Biglerville. "When the numbers of mites per leaf reaches 25 to 30, the tree becomes stressed and the leaves start to bronze. This affects the quality of its fruit and in two to three seasons can actually kill small trees."

The two most popular insect specialists used to control spider mites are a lady bug named Stethorus punctum and a predatory mite named T. pyri. These insects prey on two types of spider mites, the European red mites and the two-spotted spider mites, which are agricultural pests worldwide. Much of Biddinger's work is in Pennsylvania apple orchards, a prime target for both types of pest mites.

Although the lady bug and the predatory mite both hunt spider mites, their ways of tracking them down are different.

"It turns out the predatory mite sort of roams around and bumps into them," said Biddinger. "The lady bug on the other hand is a selective killer, hunting using visual and olfactory cues to prey on spider mites."

The lady bug is tiny, oval, and black and it is a natural killer of pest mites. It is attracted to specific volatile chemical signals given off by the damage the spider mites cause to leaves. It is not just the smell that drives the lady bugs wild; this insect cannot resist the yellowing of the leaves damaged by spider mites. Adult lady bugs can live for over a year and eat up to nine mites an hour or 75 to 100 a day.

The predatory mite is much smaller than the lady bug. It is pear-shaped and is usually creamy-white in color. Young mites develop into adults in a very short time and their voracious appetites make them a formidable enemy to spider mites. Adults have a lifespan of about 75 days and can eat 350 mites during this time.

Reducing pest mite numbers and controlling outbreaks with the aid of mite predators is an important task. The biological control of spider mites reduces the need for mite-controlling chemicals and saves growers millions in integrated pest management costs.

"Biological control is basically using the good bugs to control the bad bugs," said Biddinger.

Growers chose lady bugs as their biological control agent until U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations prompted growers to switch to new pesticides that kill lady bugs. The predatory mite, however, was resistant and could live through sprayings. So predatory mites are now the hunter of choice for spider mites.

Biddinger, working with Donald C. Weber, research entomologist, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service Invasive Insect Biocontrol and Behavior Laboratory, Maryland, and Larry Hull, professor of entomology, Penn State, published their work in a special issue of Biological Control devoted to ladybugs in agriculture.

"With the pesticides we are using now it is very hard for the lady bug to survive," said Biddinger. "The predatory mite could never exist here before because they could not stand the old pesticides, but they are resistant to the new pesticides. With the predatory mite being more effective than the lady bug, we are probably going to exceed the savings for growers that we had with the lady bug in the past. So far we have reduced miticide use by over 90 percent since we switched. This is saving growers about a million dollars a year and is reducing oil spraying by 45,000 gallons a year."
The State Horticultural Association of Pennsylvania supported this work.

Penn State

Related Pesticides Articles from Brightsurf:

More plant diversity, less pesticides
Increasing plant diversity enhances the natural control of insect herbivory in grasslands.

In pursuit of alternative pesticides
Controlling crop pests is a key element of agriculture worldwide, but the environmental impact of insecticides is a growing concern.

Two pesticides approved for use in US harmful to bees
A previously banned insecticide, which was approved for agricultural use last year in the United States, is harmful for bees and other beneficial insects that are crucial for agriculture, and a second pesticide in widespread use also harms these insects.

Dingoes have gotten bigger over the last 80 years - and pesticides might be to blame
The average size of a dingo is increasing, but only in areas where poison-baits are used, a collaborative study led by UNSW Sydney shows.

Pesticides can protect crops from hydrophobic pollutants
Researchers have revealed that commercial pesticides can be applied to crops in the Cucurbitaceae family to decrease their accumulation of hydrophobic pollutants, thereby improving crop safety.

Honeybee lives shortened after exposure to two widely used pesticides
The lives of honeybees are shortened -- with evidence of physiological stress -- when they are exposed to the suggested application rates of two commercially available and widely used pesticides.

Pesticides increase the risk of schistosomiasis, a tropical disease
Schistosomiasis is a severe infectious disease caused by parasitic worms.

A proposal to change environmental risk assessment for pesticides
Despite regulatory frameworks designed to prevent environmental damage, pesticide use is still linked to declines in insects, birds and aquatic species, an outcome that raises questions about the efficacy of current regulatory procedures.

SDHI pesticides are toxic for human cells
French scientists led by a CNRS researcher have just revealed that eight succinate dehydrogenase inhibitor pesticide molecules do not just inhibit the SDH activity of fungi, but can also block that of earthworms, bees, and human cells in varying proportions.

Pesticides deliver a one-two punch to honey bees
A new paper in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry reveals that adjuvants, chemicals commonly added to pesticides, amplify toxicity affecting mortality rates, flight intensity, colony intensity, and pupae development in honey bees.

Read More: Pesticides News and Pesticides Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.