Raising and breeding ladybirds on a small scale only requires basic equipment. What you do need is a plentiful supply of aphids; ladybirds and their larvae are carnivores and consume a lot of prey insects. This shouldn't be problematic. Gardeners will tell you that aphids are rarely in short supply in most gardens. However, collecting enough aphids requires more of a time commitment than collecting leaves for a caterpillar.
Create a suitable habitat for your ladybug farm. Lay a few sheets of paper towels or old newspapers on the bottom of a fish tank or large cardboard box. This helps to keep the container clean.
Add some twigs and cardboard tubes to the tank to provide perching and hiding places for the ladybirds. Add one or two damp cotton balls in a shallow dish such as a jar lid.
Acquire a few adult ladybirds. If ladybirds are plentiful in your garden, you could collect a few from there. Alternatively, you can purchase a ladybug kit from a biological or educational supplier. Such kits usually contain eggs or larvae, but the larvae eat the same diet as the adults. Choose a species native to your area if you plan to release any of the ladybirds later.
Transfer the ladybirds to the tank. Use an artist's paintbrush to gently push the ladybirds into the tank, rather than picking them up in your fingers. Alternatively, just place the piece of paper the eggs came on in the tank. Use the paintbrush and a plastic tub when collecting the insects as well.
Fasten the muslin over the tank with an elastic band. This provides plenty of ventilation and stops the ladybirds or their prey from escaping.
Collect aphids from your garden or a nearby park. It's best to snip aphid-covered leaves off a plant, but if the gardener doesn't want you mutilating her plants, tap each leaf hard to knock aphids into the tub or brush them off gently. Place the leaves in the tank or knock the aphids into the tank by tapping on the bottom of the tub.
Feed the ladybirds as many aphids as they can eat every day. When they reproduce, their larvae eat the same diet.
Replace the damp cotton ball once a day to prevent bacteria build-up.
Clean the tank once a week. Replace the paper towels with fresh ones and remove any dead leaves.
When feeding the ladybirds, be careful so that they don't escape. Feeding them in the evening when it's cool means that they might be calmer. If one does fly away, catch it with a drinking glass and piece of paper and return it to the tank.
Tips and warnings
- When feeding the ladybirds, be careful so that they don't escape. Feeding them in the evening when it's cool means that they might be calmer. If one does fly away, catch it with a drinking glass and piece of paper and return it to the tank.