I have a vast perennial herb garden, but this year I decided to plant most of my annual herbs in pots, and so we have containers of dill, cilantro, and basil in the North Garden. The dill and cilantro have gone to seed, so I've been collecting those seeds for our pickle projects. I had noticed that some of the umbels had a few aphids on them, but you know my philosophy about prey: Leave 'em alone, and the predators will show up. So I didn't think too much about it. The aphids don't really affect the seeds, after all; they are after the juicy stems at this point.
Last night I had my plant terminology class, and we were asked to bring five different flower inflorescences in to study. So I picked one of the dill flowers because it has a nice compound umbel inflorescence. When I got to class, I noticed all these white things hanging down from the pedicels, the little stalk that holds the actual flower. So I waited until after class to speak with my professor, because I wanted to know what in the world those were. I had never noticed them before, and why would the plant make something like that?
After a good look, my teacher declared that they were EGGS. So then I got my loupe out and we looked closer and saw tiny worm-like things crawling around with the aphids. My initial thought was that they were thrips. (Here's something I could do better: Not assume that a bug is a bad guy. Presume innocence first!) When I asked Mr. Google this morning ("eggs hanging on dill?"), he directed me to this lovely blog: Red House Garden. And there were the eggs of the Green Lacewing, or Chrysopidae. I promptly went into the garden and started taking pictures of the dill.
The eggs are all over, also on the cilantro and the basil. And they're not just on the pedicels. They are also on stems! and flowers!
One of the students last night said, "it looks like a little Christmas tree with tiny ornaments!" and I think she's right! Kind of adorable, now that I know they are good guys!
Green lacewings are generalist predators (meaning they'll eat any soft-bodied insect, good caterpillars as well as nasty aphids), and are widely found across the US in garden and agricultural habitats. The adults feed mainly on nectar and pollen (we love that), and the larvae are voracious predators of the aforementioned soft-bodied insects (we love that even more). They can eat 200 aphids a day! They also eat thrips, whiteflies, mites, mealybugs, insect eggs, and leafhoppers.
The best write-up I found on these creatures is from the Louisiana Ag Center, which has great pictures of the lacewings in all stages of life. The eggs are laid on 'filaments,' and there are three instar larval stages, before the larvae pupate and become flyers. Sometimes the larvae are called 'Aphid Lions,' because they eat so many of them! From the Louisiana Ag Center: "During the two-week larval stage, a single green lacewing larva can consume approximately 250 leafhopper nymphs.... as well as 300-400 aphids, 11,200 spider mites, 3780 coccid scale crawlers or 6500 scale eggs." Amazing!
Years ago, I bought a pack of lacewing eggs from Arbico organics. Who knows if they are finally taking hold in my garden, or if they flew in of their own accord sometime this year. But I'm glad to see them, recognize them, and celebrate them!