Hundreds of volunteers in the Tri-Cities, including children from Alderson Elementary in Coquitlam, have taken part in a new study looking to pester the pests.
What started as a simple idea grew to a few volunteers with gardens, then exploded into hundreds of participants across the Lower Mainland all looking to combat pests in a natural way - by enticing their predators.
While they may not be alien headhunters who can camouflage into the environment, natural pesticide predators do exist within Coquitlam's ecosystem.
The study focusing on them - called UNIBUG (the User Network for Insect Biology in the Urban Garden) - was founded and coordinated by Veronica Wahl, an instructor at Douglas College.
"We're essentially managing habitats," Wahl told the Tri-Cities NOW.
"Attracting insects that are already there."
The testing is done by planting plants known to attract natural pesticide predators, such as beetles and parasitic wasps, which feed on the pests that would normally harm garden plants.
Attractive plants like the yarrow and alyssum flowers - native to the Tri-Cities - have been planted in various gardens around the Tri-Cities and at Alderson Elementary, with volunteers and classes collecting the data.
So far, so good, according to Wahl, who says evidence through word of mouth and their sticky bug collection boxes and sheets show an increase in ladybugs, soldier beetles and parasitic wasps - an insect with an interesting way of dealing with pests.
"What they do is, they're tiny little wasps, from half a millimetre to three centimetres in size, and they lay their eggs inside the bodies or eggs of the pests, then the larvae eat their way out," Wahl said. "You know the movie Aliens? The movie Aliens is based on that particular phenomenon."
Two of the study volunteers are Megan and Tom Boothby, residents of Coquitlam who have planted yarrows in their garden as part of Wahl's research.
Their efforts are working in what little time they have been participating, Megan said, and it makes for a fun time too.
"I really enjoy trying to identify the various beetles and other bugs in the trap," she said. "I have a little lowpower microscope that helps, in conjunction with the field guide that came in the kit. I only have two weeks of data so far, so while I 'see' a result, the standard deviation is as wide as the data set, so it's not meaningful so far."
She's also used the couple's participation in the study as an educational tool with their four-year-old neighbour, Alex Crockford.
"It has also been a great opportunity to show Alex what an ongoing science project is like with concepts like hypotheses, and to get him excited about waiting for results," Boothby said.
Carolynn Chan, a grade 1 and 2 teacher at Alderson Elementary, said participating in UNIBUG was a lot of fun and very educational for not only her students, but for her as well.
"I think the kids learned a lot and the teachers did too," she said. "I mean I didn't know that beetles were good for the garden, but now that I know that I'm greeting them happily."
As far as the experiment went, Chan did see an increase in beetles and certain flying predators in the school garden.
This information is not only useful for gardeners, but can be used to help businesses such as landscaping companies choose particular plants to help their clients' yards, according to Wahl.
Participants are collecting more data and soon Wahl and her volunteers will be testing different plants to have a more concrete idea on which ones do and don't work.
From there it can only get bigger.
"The next phase we're looking into is crop damage," she said.
By planting these plants around crops the hope is that natural predators will help destroy pests and protect the supply without the farmer having to use any chemicals, according to Wahl.
Right now Wahl is in talks with many more schools around the Lower Mainland and in the Tri-Cities, and if all goes well there may be hundreds more children learning and collecting data this fall.
It seems to be if you plant the right plant, it's doable, Wahl says.
"It's a little bit part of the reason why we chose alyssum," she said. "It's inexpensive, easy to grow, easy to obtain and natural in the region."
"We know these insects are in the gardens," Wahl said.
"We know they exist. How can we talk them into happily existing in our gardens or our lawns? We're trying to figure that out."
This project is going into its third year of study and organizers are recruiting volunteers for next summer.
For more information or to volunteer e-mail email@example.com.
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