Recently, I extolled the benefits of “bugs” in the landscape, and urged readers to let them do their work without DBP (death by pesticides). I decided to compile a primer of some of the many beneficial insects working for us aside from the much-lauded honey- and bumble-bees and butterflies. As you will see, they are many — each created for their own duty in our world. Let’s give them a chance! Here’s a much-marginalized list of the most familiar area denizens, beginning with the ephemeral lacewing.
• Lacewings: Adult lacewings feed on nectar and pollen, thus serving as pollinators while nourishing themselves.
Their predatory larvae, however earned the nickname “aphid lion” for their consumption of aphids, though they also eat small caterpillars and other pests.
• Dragonflies: Well-named, dragonfly larvae is aquatic and feasts on fly and mosquito larvae in their birth pond (or lake, fen, or other quiet water).
As a winged adult, they roam at random, seeking flying pests which they snatch right out of the air. Close cousins include damselflies, darters, and skimmers, some brightly colored in red and/or blue.
• Wasps: nectar and pollen-lovers — and unwitting pollinators, many wasp species also feed on other insects.
Large species such as paper wasps, yellow jackets, and hornets paralyze caterpillars and other prey with a sting and transport them back to their nests to eat. Tiny trichogramma wasps — often seen in a pollen-filled blossom, not only pollinate but also parasitize moth eggs. Braconid wasps lay eggs on living caterpillars such as tent worms and some large beetle larvae.
• Flies and midges: often considered pests themselves, many species help control other pests.
The larvae of nectar-eating syrphid flies and predatory midges feed on aphids. Tachnid flies, like braconid wasps, lay their eggs on living caterpillars, grubs or beetles.
• Mantids: The familiar large green Chinese praying mantis is a long-time Asian import, but should be welcomed as an effective pest-killer by impaling and consuming pests while holding them in their strong spiky forelegs. Smaller mantids are equally lethal. While waiting to ambush prey, they hold their legs in a position that reminded early naturalists of praying hands, thereby coining their common name.
• Beetles: Some beetles are themselves considered pests, but many are voracious predators — as witness the much-loved “ladybug” or ladybird beetles.
They feed on small, soft-bodied prey such as aphids, even when they are still larvae themselves. Hundreds of other beetles — most beneficial — include tiger beetles, soldier beetles, ground beetles, all of which patrol the landscape night and day.
• Bugs: True bugs, per se, are generally of the order Hemiptera (half-wing) which are the only insects correctly known as bugs.
They include assassin bugs, predatory sting bugs, pirate bugs and ambust bugs, and are constantly on pest patrol. They impale their victims with a hollow, spear-like mouthpart, and suck out the fluids.
Spiders: Arachnids are not bugs or even insects, but they are important pest predators. Generally tending sticky webs which allow them to trap prey, such as the bright black and yellow garden spider, some, like jumping spiders and wolf spiders actively stalk the garden, waiting to pounce on unwary insects. Give these valuable workers as chance! Here’s how to get them started.
As you have seen, many beneficial insects feed on nectar or pollen. Ensure that you have a variety of blooming plants to attract them. Colorful and/or fragrant flowers will draw them and, since many of them need protection, provide places to hide. Ornamental grasses, leafy mulch, brush piles, perennials and flowering shrubs can be the answer. Other pals may show up and surprise you — toads, tiny salamanders (careful, they snuggle under leaves!) and our pretty black/yellow garden snake — all good guys and a blessing to your garden!
Broad-spectrum insecticides and/or herbicides kill beneficials, so don’t use them. Pull weeds and destroy unwanted insects by hand and work with Mom Nature for a true natural garden that teems with vibrant life.
Note: I do not have personal access to email, but please feel free to call me at 208-265-4688 anytime between 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Leave a number if I’m not home and I promise to return your call. VN.
Valle Novak writes the Country Chef and Weekend Gardener columns for the Daily Bee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. or by phone at 208-265-4688.