Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Tale of Ladybugs, Aphids And Sooty Mold On The Elm Tree

Outside our kitchen window sits a huge very old elm tree.  We love our huge shady tree inspite of the fact that the elm is messy:  In the spring the tree drops seeds everywhere.  Then later tiny trees sprouts in the flower beds.  Storms tend to break branches. In past years elm bugs have eaten holes in the leaves, sometimes leaving them skeletonized. Then later there are little elm larva piled up under the bark and in spaces by the rocks. In the fall, so many leaves to pick up….but the most annoying is the honeydew, what folks around here call "spitting sap".  Ants “farm” the aphids that eat on the new spring elm leaves.  The aphid “poop” is called honeydew.  I wouldn’t know how honey it is, but I guess it must be sweet.  It is sticky you’ll note, if you have ever noticed what some call sap on their cars. The honeydew then provides food for sooty mold, a fungus that can make the elm tree look black.
So what is an organic gardener to do…I waited patiently and last year hoards of ladybugs came to the rescue.  They ate the aphids and my tree had a wonderful healthy year. This link tells us that some ladybugs eat 5000 aphids in their lifetime.  Last year at the end of June I noticed ant lions waiting their days to become new ladybugs.  I took pictures and watched and watched.
At my back door
Ant lions
The ant lion looks scary but it is a voracious eater of aphids. After eating for a few weeks it morphs into a lady bug. I imagine these ant lions fell off the tree and landed on the wall next to the tree...who knows?  June 29, 2011
July 3, 2011. Not yet a lady bug. “She” sheds this cover…
July 8…She is now a ladybug. She has moved onto my glass storm door.
She stayed on the door for hours. It seemed like she was drying and developing a harder shell.  She flew away to eat, and eat, lay eggs which hatch into hungry ant lions who eat and eat and then wait as they morph into a lovely hungry lady bug.
June 20 – Another good bug: Green Lace Wing
August 12 – Thriving insects. What are these buzzing insects. I don’t know, but I am happy to see them.


  1. Now I know about aphid poop! Interesting post with good information! I am always happy to see ladybugs in my own garden. Hopefully I won't see too much sooty mold; but if I do, now I know where it comes from and how to get rid of it.

  2. Green lace wing ? I see them all the time. Just thought they were little moths. I love ladybugs!

  3. Gloria, those buzzing insects on the sunflower in your last photo...they're native Long-Horn Bees! The can fall into a few different genera, and it's a bit complicated sorting out species, but they are aster specialists, and often found on sunflowers, and various members of the Asteraceae family. The length of their antennae gives them away. Last year they seemed to be smitten with our Rudbeckias! They are gorgeous though, and very fuzzy, with beautiful green eyes. Our post on them last year is here:

  4. Clare, thank you for letting me know about the Long-Horn Bees and for the link to your very informative information on these natural pollinators. I look forward to seeing them again.

  5. Hi Deb - Now I love lady bugs even more than before.

  6. Gloria,
    I enjoyed your lovely ladybug photo story! I noticed you are a Master Gardener and wondered if you would become a citizen scientist and send your ladybug photos to the Lost Ladybug Project. Your photos are important data and would help the Lost Ladybug Project map all the species of ladybugs across North America. We are a nonprofit science education and research project funded by the National Science Foundation. We're trying to understand why populations of some native species of ladybugs have declined and where they still live. You may have a rare ladybug in your gorgeous garden!
    For more information check us out at
    We're asking everyone's help to spread the word and send in photos of any and every ladybug you can photograph via our website.
    If you have questions or want to chat via email, please send to
    Many thanks,