The ladybugs come from Arizona, via UPS.
They arrive in a small, wooden crate with the words “Keep Out of Sun and Heat” printed on it, packed in straw in a lightweight, breathable bag.
Shortly after the unusual package reaches Union College, grounds manager Tom Heisinger slices into the bag with a knife, pulls out a handful of ladybags and deposits them in the shrubbery.
The ladybugs are a crucial part of Union College’s pest management strategy.
They eat aphids, a destructive pest that likes to devour the leaves of the spirea, a shrub that is common on campus.
“They’ll eat any kind of soft-bodied insect, but they really love the aphids,” Heisinger says, as he empties the contents of the crate. “We’ve had really good success with these guys.”
Heisinger also deploys praying mantises in the war on pests.
So far this year, he has also released about 30,000 praying mantises on campus.
“They will eat anything,” he said.
Praying mantises do prey on ladybugs, but Heisinger said he doesn’t release them together, which reduces the risk that the praying mantises will devour the ladybugs.
Using ladybugs and praying mantises to eat aphids and other pests reduces Union’s need to use insecticides. It is part of an approach to dealing with pests known as integrated pest management, which teaches that effective pest control involves changing the conditions that allow vermin to thrive, rather than simply killing them off with poison.
Though sometimes the aphids are so bad that Heisinger is forced to use a “very limited” amount of chemicals to kill them, that hasn’t been the case this year.
“I’m very happy about that,” he said.
“We spray only when necessary,” said Meghan Haley-Quigley, a 2011 Union College graduate who now serves as the school’s sustainability coordinator. “It’s not like we go around blanketing the campus.”
The crate that arrived at Union College on Friday contained 70,000 ladybugs — about a gallon.
It was the college’s third shipment of ladybugs this spring, raising the number of ladybugs released on campus so far this year to 420,000. Heisinger said he expects to release 140,000 more ladybugs this year.
One gallon of ladybugs costs $130.
Heisinger said Union College has been using insects for pest control for about 15 years.