Bugs for Hire

So you've identified your pest and you've figured out what predator can control it. But where do you get it? You can buy a variety of natural enemies from many different companies. The most recent issue of Suppliers of Beneficial Organisms in North America by Charles D. Hunter, lists 132 private commercial suppliers and over 120 different organisms used for the biological control of pest organisms in Canada, the United States and Mexico. This listing doesn't even include bacterial, fungal or viral preparations (they're defined as pesticides by the EPA). However, effective natural enemies are not currently available for most pests. The production of natural enemies requires highly specialized equipment and methods and is relatively labor intensive. Most producers supply just generalist natural enemies of proven abilities (such as lacewings) or specialized natural enemies for major markets (such as whitefly parasites). The list of commercially available natural enemies will increase only as long as producers have acceptable markets for their new products.

Advertised costs can vary considerably (see table below), and so can suggested release rates supplied with the shipment. For example, the mealybug destroyer is one of the more widely available insectary-reared predators, offered by 11 of the 24 respondents in a recent survey by Cranshaw, Sclar and Cooper at Colorado State University. Prices for the adult insects varied from $0.15 to $0.65 per beetle; suggested release rates included 2-5 beetles per plant, 1-2 per square yard, and 1000-2000 per acre. Differences in price may reflect the quantity or quality of information provided with the shipment, costs for shipping to distant locations, etc. Some recommended release rates may be conservatively high to ensure success; others quite low in an effort to keep prices at acceptable levels; variation in others may be the difference between inoculative releases and rescue treatments.

How Much Do They Cost?
Organism Number Average Cost (Range)
Fly parasites 100 parasitized fly pupae $0.27 ($0.12-$0.76)
Trichogramma wasps 1000 parasitized host eggs $0.77 ($0.19-$2.34)
Encarsia formosa wasps 100 parasitized whitefly pupae $1.94 ($0.98-$3.00)
Green lacewings 1000 eggs $5.20 ($3.50-$7.40)
Convergent lady beetle 100 field-collected adults $0.14 ($0.11-$0.17)
Delphastus pusillus adult $0.46 ($0.30-$0.67)
Aphidoletes aphidomyza pupa $0.44 ($0.27-$0.75)
Minute pirate bugs adult $0.18 ($0.10-$0.28)
Amblyseius cucumeris 1000 mites $1.90 ($1.05-$3.20)
Steinernema nematodes 10 million juveniles $4.55 ($1.95-$8.50)

Producing natural enemies in large quantities is a challenging task, with considerable potential for things to go wrong during rearing or shipping. Assess your beasts for survival and vigor when they arrive, and make sure you received the proper quantity and species of natural enemy you ordered. Reputable suppliers of natural enemies make every effort to be sure they are shipping a high-quality product, and should be willing to work with you to assure the product meets your needs; if not, change suppliers.


Know the specific pests you need to control.
Know the best natural enemies, either singly or in combination, for the target pest or pests.
Know the proper timing of release of the natural enemy, based upon the life cycles of the pest and natural enemies.
Know the proper release rate for each natural enemy.
Calculate the amount of natural enemies needed, based upon release rate, area to be covered, and severity of pest infestation.
Know the recommended frequency of release if multiple releases are necessary.
Provide a safe delivery address, especially one where the shipment will be cared for as soon as it arrives, and where it will not be exposed to temperature extremes.
Understand proper release practices so that you will be prepared to make releases when the shipment arrives.
Understand proper storage requirements if releases are not to be made immediately after arrival.

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