Harnessing the Benign Aggression of Ladybugs
Late Thursday afternoon, the newly arrived pest-control troops swarmed over Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. In their flashy red and black jackets, they fanned out among the flowers and shrubs, searching for aphids, mites and other threats to the greenery at the heavily landscaped campus of Manhattan’s most famous middle-income rental complex.
Their intention was to eat them.
The troops were ladybugs. Some 720,000 of them were released by groundskeepers at the complex, which occupies 18 square blocks northeast of First Avenue and East 14th Street. The ladybugs are part of an effort by the complex’s new owners, Tishman Speyer, to move away from using chemical insecticides to protect the plants and grass that cover 40 acres there.
As dusk fell on Stuyvesant Town, groundskeepers broke open boxes that had arrived in the mail from a natural gardening company in Montana. Inside each box was a cotton bag filled with straw. The straw was alive with ladybugs.
A grounds foreman, Vincenzo Bonasia, leaned over a cluster of yellow chrysanthemums, reached into a bag, pulled out a hunk of straw and a few hundred ladybugs, and scattered them around like a man spreading grated cheese on a pizza.
The ladybugs seemed to make themselves at home immediately. They crawled up stems, flew a few inches or flexed their little half-moon wings, and generally looked busy. A few dozen stragglers clung to the back of Mr. Bonasia’s hand. He waved them off.
“Just a little tickle,” Mr. Bonasia said. “It’s O.K.”
Seven hundred and twenty thousand may sound like a lot of ladybugs, but Tishman Speyer officials said they were assured by Planet Natural, the supplier, that it was the appropriate number. Spreading 720,000 ladybugs over 40 acres gives each ladybug an 19-by-19-inch square of turf, which seems like enough space to stretch six little legs.
But will the bugs have enough to eat? Figures supplied by Tishman Speyer claim that a ladybug can eat 50 aphids in a day. So in the course of a season, 720,000 ladybugs could consume 4.6 billion aphids. That’s a lot of aphids.
The grounds manager at the complex, Carl Keil, said he was not worried that the ladybugs would run out of prey. “I think they’ll just help them control the population,” he said.
Officials at the city’s parks department declared that the addition of 720,000 ladybugs did not threaten to upset the delicate ecological balance of southeastern Manhattan, either.
“Besides being beautiful, ladybugs are also quite benign,” said Warner Johnston, the department’s chief spokesman.
The ladybugs were greeted warmly by some of the complex’s 25,000 human inhabitants.
“The ladybugs will be a welcome addition,” said Michael Alcamo, who has lived in Stuyvesant Town for 20 years. “Too many of our new tenants aren’t making contributions of any kind to the community.”
Moments after Mr. Bonasia visited a clump of laurel by a playground, Aidan Flynn, 3, called out to his caretaker, “Look! Come see! A ladybug!”
The caretaker, Zobida Mohamed, came over and explained what was happening. “See?” she said to Aidan. “The good one is going to eat all the bad ones.”
Aidan nodded approvingly, but a few seconds later, a ladybug crawled onto the wall, and Aidan raised his little purple ball to crush it. Ms. Mohamed called him off.
“Gentle, Aidan,” Ms. Mohamed said. “Always be gentle with animals.”
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OH MY GOSH, they have my daughter's favorite Sesame Street song on youtube, "The Ladybugs' picnic.