Alton N Sparks Jr  University of Georgia Bugwood org CC If you have any type of garden, then you have probably encountered these little insects. These insects are tiny, usually 1mm long, slender, winged bugs that like to feed on the chloroplast in plant tissue. They can damage a cash crop relatively easily. They are often considered pest, but some can be beneficial. Not only do they destroy plants, but some of the species are predatory and like to eat other insect such as mites. Some species feed on fungal spores and others like pollen. Some are known to bite people. There are around 5,000 different species of these insects, and even though they are not good flyers, they travel rather efficiently by being carried via the wind. When they grow and congregate in large number they form a swarm that creates a nuisance. They have been called many names, but are better known as thunderflies or thunderbugs.

If the right species targets the right plants, they can be instrumental in ruining the plants. They puncture the surface of the plants and suck out the chloroplast, leaving scars in the leaves known as stippling. This causes the plants to be discolored, deformed, and susceptible to viruses. They also cause discoloration in flowers due to feeding on the buds before they bloom. They often leave feces behind on the plants they visit. They act as vectors to about 20 viruses that infect plants. These have become the worst plant pathogens worldwide. Thrips do the most damage to herbaceous ornamentals, fruits, and vegetables than any other plants. They usually do not kill the plants unless there is enormous population of them engorging on them at one time. If this happens then some sort of pest control is warranted.

To figure out which thrips that you have in your garden, you can collect them by shaking the plant over a piece of paper and collecting a few. You can also buy bright yellow sticky strips to catch adult thrips. Blue sticky traps will catch flower thrips. You can take these collected bugs by your nursery or local agricultural extension department and identify which species that you have. Once you have identified which species that are causing problem, you have to decide how to deal with them. There are basically three ways in which to accomplish this. You can destroy them using biological, cultural, or chemical controls.

I mentioned earlier that some of the species are predators. That mean they also feed on other thrips. Predators of thrips can be purchased commercially. In order to use this type of control, you will not be able to use insecticides. The jury is out on whether it is worth purchasing predators as compared to what is naturally occurring in the garden as far as eradicating this problem.

Another form of prevention or removal is known as cultural control. This involves manipulating the environment. Thrips tend to move in and multiply in areas where plant are near weeds and grasslands. When the summer starts to dry up these areas, they thrive. Proper weeding and watering the garden will help control these areas. Also deadhead any spent blooms. Avoid using a fertilizer with a lot of nitrogen in it. This will only increase the population. Pruning infected plants often helps eradicate large numbers of thrips at once. Dispose of the debris and remove it out of the garden. Row and mesh cover can be placed over vegetable gardens, and the plants can grow beneath them. Reflective mulch can also be used to deter these bugs, and they are one of the more popular methods. They multitask by prevent weeds and conserving soil moisture as well.

The last method is chemical control. It is also the least popular. This is because usually once you have detected the damage to the plants the thrips that caused it are long gone. These applications will only serve to benefit the next years crops. Unless a virus has attacked fruit, the integrity of the fruit is still good. If the area still needs to be treated, there are effective oils and sprays that are available, however, they cannot completely control the problem. Utilize these measures in conjunction with cultural controls and you should be able to decrease the population and the affects on your plants.