NOTE: This is a re-post because it now comes with an awesome new video of how to monitor you mite sachets!
Recently, I had an interaction with a grower where their long-standing biocontrol program for thrips suddenly seemed to be failing. After a (too long) investigation by myself, the grower, and several consultants, we found out the horrible truth: their predatory mite were being MURDERED (Duh dun DUHNNN!)… By improper storage.
This post focuses on whether YOU might also be guilty of mite murder. (And yes, I’ve stooped to the level of click-bait titles).
Special thanks to Graeme Murphy (BioLogical Consulting) Dave Neal (Koppert), Rose Buitenhuis (Vineland Research and Innovation Centre) and especially Ronald Valentin (BioWorks) for all their knowledge that went into this post!
1. Storing mites in the wrong spot:
In a perfect world, everyone would put their biological control agents out the second they received them. But I know that shipping and other duties sometimes take precedent. However, WHERE you store your mites until you put them out has a huge impact on their quality.
The grower in question was using Cucumeris mite sachets that were stored in the temperature-controlled office before use, to protect them from too high temperatures in the greenhouse. At the time, this made perfect sense everyone involved.
Turns out, that was the wrong move.
Sachets contain 2 types of mites: the predatory mites (Cucumeris or Swirskii) and “food mites” that the Cucumeris/Swirskii prey on while in the sachet (providing a self-renewing food source so you get repeated generations of predators from the sachet).
We found out through some discussions with Ronald Valentin (formerly BioLine; now with BioWorks!), that to feed the food mites and keep them reproducing over time, sachets actually have yeasts and fungi added to the bran inside. Lower the humidity too much – by putting them in an office with forced heating/cooling (around 40-50% RH), for example – and you kill the yeasts/molds, starving the cereal mites. And voila, your sachet stops reproducing and you have sachets filled with bran (and not much else) in about a week.
Similarly, coolers also pose a danger to mites. Not only can they be very dry, they are often set below the proper temperature for mite storage (min. 15 C for Swirskii and 12 C for Cucumeris).
According to Ronald’s years of experience, the better place to store your mite shipments in an active compartment in the greenhouse. The higher the humidity, the better – try not to go below 60% RH. Place the boxes under a bench to shield them from sun. Although the compartment might be on the hot side, sachets are affected less by temperature than by humidity.
You should also open up the boxes if you can’t put the mites out for a few days, as CO2 buildup can also threaten mite survival.
2. Enlarging the exit holes on the sachet:
I know – it’s very tempting. That hole is SO SMALL! But it’s been specially designed to juuustt be large enough to let mites out, while keeping humidity in. Resist the urge to mess with it.
3. Placing sachets incorrectly on plants:
One reason I love Rose Buitenhuis at the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre is that she brings us some darn good practical research.
One of her first projects was to look at optimal mite sachet placement on plants. And she found some very clear results.
When mite sachets were nestled within the plant canopy – shaded from the sun and within a higher humidity “micro” environment – LOTS more mites emerged than when sachets were exposed (i.e. placed above the plant canopy). And the mites kept emerging, with sachets peaking at around 3 weeks post-placement, and lasting for up to 6 weeks. Conversely, sachets exposed to the greater greenhouse environment only provided enough mites for 1 or 2 weeks of thrips control.
One reason for this is that both beneficial AND prey mites need high humidity for their eggs to hatch. For example, the %RH needed for 50% of eggs laid by Cucumeris and Swirskii to hatch is >60%! Thus, lower humidity = lower reproduction. Once the mites are out of the sachet, however, the humidity level at the leaf boundary layer is generally sufficient to keep them happy.
So, yes, humidity really is THAT important for breeder sachets of mites, even once they’re in the greenhouse.
4. Using incompatible pesticides
Predatory mites generally tend to be less susceptible to pesticide residues than other biocontrol agents, but that doesn’t mean they’re invincible. Obviously, the old-school organophosphates and carbamates are hard on any bio. But mites can also be affected by spray applications of the following insecticides:
- Insecticidal soaps (low persistence)
- Kontos (spirotetremat; 14 days persistence*)
- Landscape oil (mineral oil; 2 weeks persistence)
- Pylon (chlorfenapyr; 14 days persistence*)
- Success (spinosad; 2 weeks persistence)
As well as the following miticides (i.e. for spider mite and/or broad mite):
- Avid (abamectin; 3-6 weeks persistence time)
- Dyno-Mite (pyridaben; unknown persistence)
- Floramite (bifenazate; up to 1 week persistence)
- Forbid (spiromesifen; unknown persistence)
- FujiMite (fenpyroximate; unknown persistence)
- Pylon (chlorfenapyr; 14 days persistence*)
(* Data courtesy of Plant Products. Other data taken from Biobest/Koppert compatibility databases).
Of the products available for spider mites, Vendex (fenubatin oxide) and Floramite (bifenzate) are generally the gentlest on predatory mites (Floramite being harder on P. persimilis and Swirskii than Cucumeris).
With all products, avoid hitting the sachets themselves, and always check the viability of sachets post-spray. Be prepared to re-apply after the persistence period if necessary. Lose broadcasts of mites will need to be re-applied.
How to Know You Have a Problem:
As with any bio, while it’s always good to check for life upon receipt. But with mite sachets, you also need to monitor their actual emergence in your crop over time.
By keeping an eye on them, you can a) get ahead of any problems and work with the bio companies to resolve them before things turn critical, and b) determine how long sachets last for YOUR crop under YOUR greenhouse conditions. This will help you plan your thrips IPM program according.
As I don’t believe in re-inventing the wheel, I will simply direct you to this amazing video by the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre on how to do weekly mite walk-out counts. This is truly the best way to determine what bang you’re getting for your buck when it comes to mites, and is considered the “gold standard” by biocontrol companies.
With these pitfalls outlined, and a handy way to monitor your sachets established, you’re on your way to effective thrips control.
10 thoughts on “4 Ways You’re Accidentally Killing Your Predatory Mites!”
Just wondering how much less bios I have when you wait to put them out about a week. It will be nice to know by % how much survive.
That’s a long time to put off putting bios out – I’d wager that the % survival might be fairly low, given the CO2 buildup, and less than ideal humidity. But I agree a number would be good; I’ll look into it!
Great article. Indeed humidity is an important factor that play a key role as explained here-with in mite life history parameters. It does also play a key role in egg hatching survival of all mites (beneficial and prey mites) As example, r.h. 50 (humidity at which 50% of eggs do hatch) for A. Cucumeris and swirskii is around 69%! Drought tolerance does vary obviously accross mites species, strains, and source of information but bottom line is they need water in the air ;0)
Sebastian, you bring up more good info. I’ll add it to the body of the post. THANKS!!
Enjoyed your article – thanks for the great info! When you listed “landscape oil” with 2 weeks persistence, are you referring to the heavier oils used outdoors? What about the lightweight horticultural oils, becoming more commonly used in greenhouses, that are volatilized within a couple of hours when sprayed during proper conditions (low RH, bright light, and quick drying conditions)? Sprayed directly on the mites, they definitely will take them out, but lightweight horticultural oils are reported to have very short persistence – a day or two – allowing for releases of beneficials. Or is that a myth that your research has busted?
Hi John; I was specifically referring to Landscape Oil, which is a mineral-oil based product. Unfortunately, it is the only oil product labelled for use within greenhouses in Ontario. According to the side-effects databases, mineral oil products can have up to a 2 week residual for Amblyseius californicus. There’s unfortunately no data out there for cucumeris or swirskii specifically, but it’s hard to believe mites in the same genus would not respond similarly. But I agree with you that light horticultural oils, sprayed under the proper conditions, likely have a much shorter residual time. We just don’t have experience with them or access to them in Canada.
If I find the holes on the sachets enlarged, should I assume the bios inside the sachet are being eaten by something else, like ants?
If I put out the mite sachets and a few days later find the holes enlarged, is that caused by predators eating my beneficials? Such as ants or wasps?