Canned ladybugs — not the greatest product ever invented.
A year ago, a Reddit post went viral because it showed a plastic container full of mostly dead creatures being sold at Lowe’s for $8.99.
One image showed perhaps a dozen of the polka-dotted beetles clinging to the lid, while the rest had expired. The other featured a side-by-side display at the home improvement store of the batches of ladybugs and similar receptacles that held praying mantises, which were priced at $9.98. At publish time, Lowe’s was confirmed to still be selling both insects.
“Well, that’s just wrong,” one commenter said.
Ladybugs are a popular treatment to control aphids without the use of pesticides. But there are problems that come with buying them.
Even if the critters are alive, their vessels can contain invasive species. Another issue is that a store-bought version can be less effective than wild ladybugs.
The aphid eaters require careful handling and must be kept refrigerated until they’re released, according to the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. They need to be hydrated, and it can require two applications of 1,500 of the insects to treat a heavily infested large bush. Even after all that, they will fly away in a couple of days.
If the ladybugs you purchase aren’t lab-produced, you can also do more damage than good, according to Full Circle Farm.
“If you do not get properly reared insects, then they are massively detrimental to the environment, our industry, and your garden,” Full Circle Farm’s David Spencer wrote. “Ladybugs are known to eat aphids, but actually graze and are not as important for aphid controls as other predators (we just recognize them and see them because they are big and colorful).”
Spencer noted that alternatives include midges, hoverflies, and brown lacewings.
Gardeners can also plant sunflowers and other heavy-pollen composite flowers to attract ladybugs, entomologist consultant Suzanne Wainwright told Treehugger. Herbs such as cilantro, dill, and chamomile also work, according to Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm.
Wainwright stressed the importance of avoiding pesticides.
“Even approved for use in organics, pesticides can have impacts on ladybird beetles,” she said.
As one user commented about the canned ladybugs: “This is dumb anyway you cut it, like do people buy these and expect they can just release them into their garden and they won’t just fly away. I’m no expert but aren’t there certain plants that attract ladybugs naturally? Why would you buy a container of them at the store?”
Another wrote: “I personally think (and some scientists) that they don’t feel pain nor do they know they exist. Does this still feel wrong? Yes, I feel extremely bad for the ladybugs to the point where it makes me sad. I don’t think any animal should be kept in a small container.”
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