Garden helpers with a bad reputation, the Centipede and the Red Velvet Mite


 




"Wow, what a beautiful plant, but will it attract loads of nasty insects into my garden", this is a question that I am regularly asked by gardeners considering the purchase of a new tree, shrub or climber. Especially so when it comes to climbers which are to be grown against house walls, this is where peoples irrational fear of insects goes into overdrive.

For the most part the gardener has nothing to really worry about when it comes to garden insects, save for the occasional bee/wasp sting or midge bite. Compared to gardens in hotter climes we have it handy, take Australia for example, I often joke that you need a qualification in spider and snake identification before entering the Aussie garden. They have spiders down there, which once they bite you, could have you on your back in a matter of minutes.

A lot of our garden insects here in Ireland get a bad rap due to their appearance, and how horror and science fiction movie creators have harnessed this image to create exaggerated or mutated forms. They may look nasty, replete with antennae, fangs and multiple legs, but most are totally harmless, and quite a few are actually beneficial to the garden. Let me introduce you now to the nicer side of a two such garden inhabitants.

The Centipede - Lithobius forficatus.

Contrary to popular belief, most of the centipedes found in Irish gardens do not in fact have one hundred legs per insect (fifty pairs). Instead it is more common to see them with fifteen pairs, one pair attached to each of its reddish-brown, yellowish-brown body segments.

Also contrary to popular belief, it is extremely rare to get bitten by a centipede, despite the fact that its front pair of legs are modified into poisonous fangs located below its mouth. The centipede instead saves its fangs for feeding on insects, most importantly the eggs and larvae of that troublesome garden pest, the vine weevil. The centipede is doing you a favour keeping vine weevil numbers low.

You won't have to go far to find this 25 to 60mms in length garden helper, as Centipedes are to be found under pots, pieces of wood, stones and behind the damaged bark of trees. Lift a stone or pot to uncover its hiding place, and the centipede will scurry for cover, not so fearsome after all.

Red Velvet Mite - Trombidium holosericeum.

The second garden soil inhabitant that has been known to make gardeners jump upon discovery is the Red Velvet Mite. At first glance these 5mm bright red mites look like they could cause some damage all right, simply because of their blood red warning beacon colouration. I must admit that despite knowing that they have no noteworthy effect on plants or gardeners, I still am taken aback each time I discover a few of these eight legged mites wandering through the soil of my veg patch.

They can also be seen wandering on through grass, mulch, and the leaf litter layer beneath trees and shrubs from April to October. Like woodlice, Red Velvet Mites dry out easily, so they need a regular supply of dampness hence the leaf litter and mulch living conditions.

Red Velvet Mites are harmless and just feed on insects and other mites that eat fungi and bacteria in your garden. In fact if you were to remove the Red Velvet Mite from your garden through spraying or crushing, the decomposition process in the soil would go much slower. Slow decomposition in the soil results in all other soil processes gradually slowing down as well, as natures delicate balance is knocked out of whack.

So, next time you stumble across some Red Velvet Mites or Centipedes when working in the garden, my advice to you is to go inside and have that well-earned cup of tea. They will usually be gone when you re-emerge with a belly full of tea, and garden life will continue along uninterrupted.

View further information on this topic in the Irish gardeners forum >>>>



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