Beneficial Garden Insects

Beneficial Garden Insects
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Insects can be helpful as well as harmful. Helpful insects control the populations of harmful insects while harmful insects destroy gardens, property, and infest your home. Aphids, potato bugs, whiteflies, slugs, caterpillars, and grasshoppers can invade your property and cause the aforementioned damage. Gardens provide a complex and diverse ecosystem of insects and beneficial insects can prevent an overflow of pests. This article will help detail the helpful bugs you might find and the harmful bugs they prey on.

Ladybug

Of all the beneficial garden insects, ladybugs are among the most well-known. Their shells range from the iconic red, yellow and orange, always complete with black spots. Ladybugs eat aphids, whiteflies, and Colorado potato beetles. Aphids and whiteflies will bite into the stem of a plant and drink the sap, leaving open wounds that don’t heal and can eventually lead to the death of the plant. Another great reason to have ladybugs around is their larvae don’t nibble on plants when they hatch. If you are growing dill, dandelions, fennels, or fern-leaf yellows, they provide ladybugs with a source of pollen and nectar and will cause them to flock to your garden and protect the plants inside.

Praying Mantis

The ultimate predator of nuisance insects, the praying mantis makes for a super bug in your garden and yard. Young mantises eat soft-bodied insects like aphids, leafhoppers, mosquitoes, and caterpillars. As they reach adulthood, they will eat larger insects such as grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, and even flies. Praying mantises require good ground cover consistent with their coloring, so keeping your grass and even small bushes thriving will help your mantis population to thrive. The females lay their eggs on branches and twigs off the ground, yet hidden from birds. Make sure during the spring not to disturb these if you want to increase the number mantises aiding your garden.

Green Lacewing

Green Lacewings are bugs with a lace pattern on their wings. Lacewings eat almost any soft-bodied insects and their eggs including pests like aphids, whiteflies, leafhoppers, and mealybugs. Nicknamed the “aphid lion” or “aphid wolf”, they make short work of aphid colonies and can consume up to 200 aphids in one week. Once they run out of other food sources, they will cannibalize other lacewing larvae, controlling their own population.

Bumblebees

Bees are known for their sting, which is why most people are afraid when they discover bees in their garden. Bees are also known for their work ethic and avid pollination of all plants. They help provide greater yields of flowers, fruits and vegetables including tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries and cherries. While their sting is known to be painful, what may be less well-known is their gentle nature. Since a bee’s sting usually kills them, they tend to be more easy-going and they don’t actively seek to sting humans. If you don’t bother them, bees can increase the production of your garden and also practice their own method of pest control by monopolizing nectar and pollen sources. A pest control company in Olathe says that “Bumblebees are essential to any garden.”

Ground Beetles

Ground beetles are nocturnal insects with over two thousand different species. They eat almost every species of harmful insects that grow on the ground. Some of the harmful bugs they eat are slugs, snails, caterpillars, cabbage maggots, and cutworms. Compost piles, which attract all sorts of bugs, are also great hiding places for the ground beetle. Ground beetles are beneficial to your garden soil because they help eat the compost and create microbe environments necessary to help the compost deteriorate. They put their eggs in the ground during the late summer months and when the larvae hatch during the springtime, they come up hungry for pests. The tunnels they make also help aerate the soil, making it easier for the roots of plants to grow downwards.

Minute Pirate Bugs

Minute pirate bugs are tiny insects, ranging from 1/12 to 1/5 an inch long. They eat soft-bodied insects like aphids, spider mites, thrips, caterpillars, as well as their eggs. Minute pirate bugs can consume over 30 spider mites in a day. Some species are so beneficial they are raised commercially and sold to growers as a form of biological and pesticide-free pest control. The bugs themselves don’t bother crops or flowers, even in larval stages. The eggs are tiny and laid inside plant tissues. When they hatch, they do minimal damage to the leaves and quickly seek out prey. They can bite humans, and although they’re not poisonous, they can leave an itchy welt that can take 2-3 days to go down. When their primary food source (other insects) disappears, they drink nectar and eat pollen, harmlessly living off plant life.

This image is created by user B. Schoenmakers at waarneming.nl, a source of nature observations in the Netherlands. [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)]

Braconid Wasps

Braconid wasps typically attach their larvae (roughly fifty to four hundred eggs at a time) on the tomato hornworms as parasite eggs, a major pest in tomato gardens. When the larvae start to pupate, they chew their way out of their host, killing the harmful hornworms in the process. In addition to hornworms, the braconid wasps also consume aphids, flies, beetles, codling moths, garden webworms and many different caterpillars. These wasps are perfect to have protect your tomato garden as the risk of them stinging is low.

Whitefly Parasites

Whiteflies suck plant’s sap of both outdoor and indoor plants. Some whiteflies are also capable transmit disease. When whiteflies emerges, they are quick to begin laying eggs within 1 to 2 days. Their egg production increase at higher temperatures at least 70 degrees and high humidity makes the most favorable conditions for the pest. Whitefly parasites are attracted to whiteflies by the smell of the honeydew they expel. The whitefly parasite enjoys humidity, strong light, and temperature above 62 degrees which makes the parasite perfect for working in warm, humid and well lit greenhouses.  Managing greenhouses and indoor infestations of whiteflies becomes a lot more feasible with the whitefly parasite eliminating the pests.

David Cappaert, Bugwood.org

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