Kunafin the Insectary Offers Control
For years, entomologists have known the value of beneficial insects, the plant-friendly bugs that prey on insect pests that do damage to various crops, trees and ornamental plants. But in nature, there never seems to be enough of them, or the right combinations, to adequately suppress pest populations. That's why the folks at Kunafin, an insectary in Quemado, Texas, near the Mexican Border, began mass-rearing several species of "good" bugs-to give farmers and gardeners an economical tool to control the "bad" ones.
Meet the Junfins
"It is important to realize that no method of insect control is 100 percent effective, including the use of most powerful insecticides," says entomologist Frank Junfin, who with his wife, Adele, own and operate Kunafin, a pioneer company in the field of biological integrated insect control (BIIC). "We do not over sell our capabilities, and we do not make unrealistic promises, but it is our philosophy that using a natural enemy against a pest is the way to go. It's cheaper than any other form of kill. It is the best place to start. Then, if you need to spray, you do not over use chemicals."
Kunafin's primary activity is supplying fly parasites to cattle feedlots, dairy, poultry, horse, hog and kennel operations in the United States, Canada, and in Mexico as well as beneficial insects for commercial-scale agricultural operations, greenhouses, and orchards. However, a growing interest on the part of home gardeners looking for environmentally-safe alternatives to pesticides prompted the Junfins to put together an economical, integrated program for small-scale use. In essence, Kunafin created a "benefits package" containing four groups of friendly insects - the ladybug, lacewing, trichogramma, and praying mantis-to debug yards and gardens.
Adele Junfin says the ladybug is, by far, the best-known beneficial insect. "They are specific for aphids and soft bodied insects, small worms, and a variety of insect eggs. And they're cute! Everybody relates to them," she says. "We recommend the release of trichogramma and lacewings in conjunction with ladybugs for a well-rounded, biological integrated insect-control program. The praying mantis is also compatible with ladybugs. Each has a job to do in a home garden. A fifth component is plants; plants that act as an insectary. Butterfly weed, yarrow, Queen Anne's lace, humble flowers - any flowers with broad flat blooms - attract beneficial insects. Alfalfa and clover also provide a groundcover for beneficials to thrive in. Marigolds and Chrysanthemums counter pest insects."
Finally, the Junfins provide the education and consultation to support their product, emphasizing that any sound pest-management program requires continuous attention to detail and good professional advice. They have been producing and supplying beneficial insects for BIIC since 1959, initiating some of the first Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs in the United States. Frank Junfin, who earned his degree in entomology at Texas A&M University, and his late father, Joe Junfin, an entomologist trained in Europe, founded the insectary. The father-and-son team began by consulting and supplying trichogramma wasps to farming operations for insect control in field crops. In 1978, the mass-rearing facilities for the production of various species of fly parasites was established, using the original family name, Kunafin. Today, Frank Junfin manages day-to-day operations at the 30,000 square-foot, temperature- and moisture-controlled facility, coordinating activities of 27 employees more in peak times of the year. He also consults by phone while Adele Junfin flies all over the country to interface with customers, promote the BIIC concept at trade shows and private meetings, and put on seminars for gardeners, like the one on wildscaping at the Groves Nursery in San Antonio last November, she presented a seminar on beneficials and exhibited Kunafin products during the Texas State Garden show at the Ferrell Center in Waco, March 11-12.
According to Adele Junfin, the four beneficial insects in the Kunafin garden pack work in concert attacking different pests. "Some go after eggs, some like the larvae. Others for bigger pests, some after beetles, like stink bugs, and their eggs, or the actual corn borer worm. Lacewings go after the whitefly, when it's stationary," she notes.
The adult ladybug is generally orange with black spots on the wing covers. The ladybug will lay her eggs in yellow clusters under a leaf or stem, within a week, he eggs hatch into orange and black larvae, tine alligator shaped insects. After three to four weeks, the larvae enters the pupae stage and after one more week the young adults emerge, ready to feed.
The Junfins advise their customers to distribute packaged ladybugs throughout their plants or trees, covering as much area as possible, in the morning or late evening, when the bugs are calm and slow moving.
Adele Junfin says many homeowners worry that the ladybugs will migrate once they are released, yet think nothing of using a spray bottle and running off naturally-occurring beneficial insects. "Actually, what happens is when you put ladybugs out, you don't want them to starve to death. Let them go next door when they're done. During the time they were in your yard or garden, they did what they were supposed to do. They've left their babies behind in the form of egg clusters on the backs of leaves. In a month, you'll see new ladybugs. They repeat the life cycle. These over winter and reproduce in your gardens and in your neighbors' yards and gardens," she says, explaining that ladybugs, as well as other beneficial insects and parasites, go into dormancy when the ground temperature cools in the fall. "We're always going to have some survival from those releases, just as you would have beneficials survive the winter in nature."
The common green lacewing Chrysopa carnea and the green lacewing Chrysopa rufilabris are the most abundant in nature. The adults are about 1/2 to 3/4 inch long, and are yellowish-green with golden eyes and large, delicate netted wings. The lacewing lays her eggs on foliage. The eggs are oval, pale green in color, and are attached to the end of a hair-like stem. In a few days they hatch. The tiny larvae that emerges has a voracious appetite and will feed on aphids, small worms, insect eggs, mites, thrips, immature whitefly, and other insects. Similar in appearance to an alligator with pincers, it is mottled brown.
"During the period it is in this stage of its life cycle, it will devour up to 200 victims a week. It then pupates by spinning a cocoon with a silken thread. The adult lacewing emerges in about five days and the life cycle repeats itself," she explains, adding that lacewings are shipped as eggs, timed to hatch for release upon arrival. "We recommend putting the larvae with rice hulls, or vermiculite, in a fertilizer spreader to distribute them."
Trichogramma are among the smallest of insects, having a wing- spread of about 1/50th of an inch. Despite its size, this beneficial is an efficient destroyer of the eggs of many moth and butterflies which are leaf-eaters in the larval stage. According to Frank Junfin, these parasitic insects disperse readily in their search for over 200 species of eggs to parasitize.
"The trichogramma seeks out eggs, but does not feed on or harm vegetation. It is an effective tool because it kills its host before the plant can be damaged," the entomologist notes. "They can be used in a variety of crops as well as in horticultural and ornamental plants and their cost is so low that it is feasible to purchase them for massive releases."
Trichogramma are shipped on squares of back paper with about 5,000-plus eggs glued to one-1 inch square. The trichogramma are developed inside these eggs and should emerge on or near the date marked on the Kunafin package.
"It is best to release them as you see them emerging. Place them in the crotch of trees, or inside the foliage of the plant. Releases should begin early when moths are first present and on a weekly basis thereafter," he advises, indicating that more than one release is sometimes required for good control.
The mot visible of the beneficial insects, the praying mantis Tendera aridifolia siensis, is the only predator which feeds at night on moths (most moths are active only after darkness) and the only one fast enough to catch mosquitoes and flies.
The body is elongated with the front legs modified into prominent grasping organs that catch and hold prey. The wings are well developed, but the mantis commonly remains quietly in one place until another insect comes into reach. However, this beneficial has been known to cautiously stalk its prey.
Both native and introduced species of the praying mantis are quite large, some over three to four inches long. The body is light brown with a pea-green color on the outer edge of the longitudinal forewing.
A single generation develops each season. During the fall of the year, females lay eggs in a large mass or clutter (an inch or so long), in a frothy, gummy substance glued to tree twigs, plant stems and other objects. Over-wintering occurs in the egg stage in this case. Tiny nymphs emerge from the egg mass in the spring or early summer. Small developing nymphs tend to become cannibalistic, which is one reason so few make it to adulthood.
"The praying mantis is such a broad spectrum beneficial. It will virtually eat anything that crosses its path," Frank Junfin points out. "We have a company that collects the praying mantis for us, but you can never collect enough to supply them on a big, commercial scale unless you mass-rear them, what the current arrangement is allowing us to do is to study them, research their diet-their whole metabolism-and determine how to grow them in mass numbers so we can supply them any time of year, in any situation, and any form of life stage the customer wants. We work very closely with our USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) university professors mass-rearing species they are collecting."
Species are kept in separate rooms at the Kunafin insectary. Another facility, four miles down the road, houses arriving beneficials collected from fields. The Junfins rely on university entomologists for quality control of collected species. Every precaution is taken to ensure the health of beneficials. They are also well fed. For example, it takes 600 to 800 pounds of whole wheat a day to grow sitotroga-the food source for many beneficials and host for trichogramma-at the insectary. According to Frank Junfin, the sitotroga, which has a 40-day cycle, produces 200 million eggs daily here.
The Garden Pack
While any one of the four beneficial species can be purchased individually, Kunafin's garden pack is the most economical way to go.
"Gardeners get more for their dollar," Frank Junfin insists. "We have a $25 and a $50 packet, depending on what you want. We put generous amounts of these beneficials in the pack. Sometimes, customers buy the larger one and split it with a neighbor.
It's a good deal. School teachers also like them for educating children."
All bugs are shipped in breathable, plastic bags, filled with recyclable shredded paper. Rice hulls are added to the lacewing packet.
"Lacewing larvae are cannibalistic. We put frozen egg in there so they have something to feed on right away," he adds.
Wet raisins, another commonly-used food source in shipping, can also be sprinkled in flowerbeds and gardens to keep beneficials close to home, the Junfins suggest.
The insectary also sells a number of biologically-friendly alternatives to chemicals, such as orange oil, safe soaps, and other products that are compatible for use in a BIIC program.
"People sometimes have a situation where they need to use something to reduce the populations before they release beneficials, when they have huge infestations," Junfin explains. "We can help them with that."