I was checking the mass of snake gourd and angled loofah vines for fruits yesterday when I uncovered a loofah with a cluster of insects on it:
My first instinct was of course to annihilate them, because they looked to be feeding on the loofah. Then curiosity/common sense kicked in and I decided to snap their photo and try to find out if they’re beneficial or not.
The closest I could get was that these were thrips. They have tapering bodies that to me look a little scorpion-like, but what sealed the identification was the little, elongated heads and what look like Popeye-like heavy biceps on the first set of legs. And they are rather small – only about 1cm long, but easy to spot because of their stark, shiny black or red bodies.
Eh, an entomologist I am not, and I don’t really enjoy examining insects in great detail; I just want to make sure I’m not killing off a potential garden ally.
I did try to give them the benefit of the doubt by finding out what they feed on. It didn’t look good for them. According to the thrips page on Wikipedia:
Thrips species feed on a large variety of sources, both plant and animal, by puncturing them and sucking up the contents. A large number of thrips species are considered pests, because they feed on plants with commercial value. Some species of thrips feed on other insects or mites and are considered beneficial, while some feed on fungal spores or pollen.
This is not the first time I’ve encountered these insects in our garden. The last time I saw them was when I was dismantling an old bamboo trellis. These insects were living in the hollow part of the sticks, and back then, I didn’t have my annihilation instincts under control – I immediately blitzed them with insecticide before realizing I should have identified them first. Too bad there were no survivors for me to check then.
The current lot of inhabitants managed to get away while I was doing my research, so no spraying went on this time. However, if I do see them again, I think I’ll use the soap suds on them. After all, they looked to be sucking sap from the loofah. At the least, the suds should immobilize them long enough to drip away with the suds. I wish, anyway.
So, friend or foe? Foe, I think!