Thrips are tiny insects. Those considered pests on crops or in greenhouses feed on plant sap, but that’s not their only food.
What do thrips eat?
There are different types of thrips.
- Pests, for instance, feed on plant material.
- Predator thrips eat other small insects and their eggs.
- Recycler thrips nibble dead and decaying plant material.
In some cases, thrips diets vary depending on their lifecycle stage:
- Nymphs and larvae may feed on sap, like parasites,
- whereas adults might only feed on pollen.
Usually, feeding is what leads to plant damage, but egg-laying is also a factor.
Naturally, the species is also important: some are insectivores whereas others are omnivores or herbivores.
Food for thrips
Both nymphs and adults feed on the same type of food. When they’re at the egg or pupae stage, thrips don’t feed anymore: they rely on reserves as they undergo transformation.
Typical food for plant-feeding thrips includes:
- sap and plant material from leaves, fruits, flowers, stems
- minerals and plant nutrients exuded during guttation
- pollen on flowers
- Thrips often feed from many different types of plants.
They often prefer parts of plants that are softer and more vulnerable. That’s why you’ll often find them in and on flowers.
How do thrips feed off plants?
Sometimes they inject chemicals into the plant to lower its healing powers so it can’t fight back.
This leads to entire areas that still have a complete cell structure, but are hollow. Air fills the spaces in, which gives leaves an appearance that is very characteristic of thrips: silver or white spots on leaves.
Thrips and pollen
Many types of thrips also feed on pollen. This isn’t usually a problem for the flower. Quite the opposite!
- Pollen-feeding thrips are often very helpful because they pollinate the flowers they feed on.
- Just like bees, thrips wander from flower to flower in search for food.
- Pollen clings to their back and on other body parts, and is deposited on other flowers.
- Some pollen is lots to the thrips feeding, but enough remains and is transferred so that each flower is pollinated.
Additionally, some predatory thrips are also able to feed on pollen. This helps them survive in case other pests and prey have been driven out.
What do Predator thrips eat?
Beneficial thrips feed on other insects such as:
Recycler thrips, clearing up the garden
This type of thrips loves eating debris and rotting plant matter.
Some types of thrips feed specifically on fungus material. These help control certain fungal diseases. Fungus spores are sometimes just the right size for a thrips to feast on!
- The Allothrips species is a typical example of fungus-eating thrips. It is very common in many parts of the world (North & South America, Europe, Asia, India, South Africa, Australia, Middle East…).
- It feeds on fungus spores from mushrooms that dissolve dead leaves.
- The largest type of thrips, Idolothrips spectrum, is also a fungus-spore-feeder. It’s the world’s largest thrips at over half an inch in size (1.5 cm)! The common name for this thrips is “Giant thrips” – well-earned, no?
In other cases, the fungus itself is the food. Thrips will nibble at the fungus mycelium as a source of food.
- This explains why it’s important to sterilize the growing medium when growing mushrooms.
- If not, you’ll be importing such fungus-eating thrips. They will eat and weaken your mushroom production!
- Learn to grow mushrooms on old coffee grounds
Are thrips dangerous to people and pets?
- It’s very rare though.
- Not really a defense reaction.
Simply, skin patterns are similar in feel and thickness to some types of leaves, at least from a thrip’s point of view. As such, don’t be surprised that they try to feed off whatever they land on!
It hurts a bit, like the bite of a mosquito, but the itch thankfully doesn’t last as long.
- There isn’t any risk of contamination, disease, or other such ailment (unlike the tick, which is (in)famous for spreading Lyme disease).