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Photo: A green lacewing larva dines on whitefly nymphs. Link to photo information

Photo: A tiny 'pirate' bug, Oris insidiosus, feeds on whitefly nymphs. Link to photo information

Hungry, Helpful Insects Thrive on Special Fast-Food

By Marcia Wood
February 5, 2001

Beneficial insects like green lacewings and big-eyed bugs are now easier and less expensive to rear indoors--by the millions--thanks to a special fast-food recipe developed by an ARS scientist. The research-based formula for what's known as artificial diet is now being described as the most successful ever developed for indoor production of these helpful insects.

When set free in fields of corn or other crops, laboratory-reared lacewings and big-eyed bugs will find and make a tasty meal of whiteflies, bollworms, mealybugs and other notorious crop pests. By augmenting naturally occurring populations of their counterparts, the lab-reared insects can help reduce growers' reliance on chemical insecticides. That’s according to the formula's developer, ARS entomologist Allen C. Cohen. And, because they rely on technologies other than chemical insecticides, the research is a boon to organic farmers, as well.

Beneficials reared on the Cohen cuisine are healthy and vigorous and produce more offspring than their counterparts. Too, they are up to 50 percent larger, and they typically mature earlier. Those are assets in outdoor living.

Cohen, now based at the ARS Biological Control and Mass Rearing Research Unit at Mississippi State, Miss., did the research while with ARS at Phoenix, Ariz. Four U.S. companies currently hold licenses to use the patented concoction. They are Beneficial Insectary, Redding, Calif.; BioLogixs, Denver, Colo.; Buena Biosystems, Inc., Ventura, Calif.; and Oregon Freeze Dry, Inc., Albany, Ore.

Cohen's formula resulted from his pioneering investigations of the beneficial insects’ feeding biology and of the nutrient composition of their typical menu--eggs or innards of their hapless prey. Cohen's fare has a liverwurst-like texture and is a blend of meat paste, sugar, yeast and specially cooked chicken eggs.

Though designed primarily for green lacewings and big-eyed bugs, the recipe can be slightly modified to nourish two other important beneficials--minute [pronounced MY- noote] pirate bugs and lady beetles.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.

Scientific contact: Allen C. Cohen, ARS Biological Control and Mass Rearing Research Unit, Mississippi State, Miss.; phone (662) 320-7524, fax (662) 320-0478,