Gardening

Predatory insects battle in the garden

Not all predatory insects live above ground, like ladybugs and wasps. Many spend much of their lifetime underground.

While weeding my onions, I had a chance to see a life and death struggle between a predatory insect and its prey — a cutworm larva.

Normally, cutworms  stay underground during the daytime but, my weeding disrupted the soil and brought it to the surface. A species of ground beetle noticed the cutworm too. I stayed very still so not to scare away the beetle. Sure enough, it attacked the cutworm. A major battle was underway that lasted several minutes. You can probably guess who I was rooting for.

The cutworm fought the ground beetle by squirming and biting.

The cutworm fought the ground beetle by squirming and biting.

The sun was very bright and was taking its toll on the beetle — he finally gave up. The cutworm  crawled away as fast as it could to find shelter.

My idea was to pick up the worm and toss it to the chickens as a snack. But, just before the cutworm ducked under some leave litter, a tiny insect — not much more than one-sixteenth of an inch long  — flew in out of nowhere. In a split second, it lightly landed on the cutworm then just as quickly flew away.

It was a predatory wasp that stung the worm and laid a clutch of eggs under the cutworm’s skin.

Those wasp eggs will immediately hatch and the wasp larvae will begin feeding on the innards of the cutworm.

I let the worm go so that the wasps could complete their life cycle.

In the struggle between predator and prey insects, the cutworm may have won the battle but it lost the war.

Bob Dluzen
As a result of being a gardener for more than 40 years, 30 of those as a professional, Bob's gardening has become an integral part of his life. "It's the ever-changing seasons and the wide variety of plants and gardens that keeps me intrigued," he says. Bob lives and gardens in rural Monroe County.