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Beneficial insects

Flower pots home>garden articles>beneficial insects


There are millions of insects that live in our midst and not all (in fact only a minority) are pests. The problem with many insecticides nowadays is that they are indiscrimate about which insects they kill - beneficial or not. Which is why a lot of organic gardeners will tell you that they don't try to eliminate ALL insect pests, they opt for control. And it will take time for the beneficial insect population to return to its full force if you've been spraying pesticides all these years. When I opted to go organic and stop pesticide spraying, my first season with my vegetable crops was disastrous as the insect pests devoured all my hardwork and I was really tempted to start spraying again. However, you must remember that beneficial insect numbers only increase when the population of insects/bugs they feed on build up first. After all, there's no point growing in numbers if the food source isn't plentiful. It's all about balance. Granted your produce/plants won't be picture perfect all the time but they will be healthier, and you will be too!

Beneficial insect 1 - Ladybirds / Ladybugs

Adult ladybugs, or lady beetles, are typically a brick red or orange with black markings. But some are black, often with red markings. Others are yellow with black dots. Their larvae look a lot like miniature alligators, and they live up to their appearance by being voracious predators of many garden pests. That's why ladybugs are among the most visible and best known beneficial predatory insects. There are more than 450 species of ladybugs in North America. Some are native and some have been introduced from other countries. Most North American species are beneficial as both adults and larvae, feeding primarily on aphids. They also feed on mites, small insects and insect eggs, including the Mexican bean beetle, and the squash beetle. Most ladybugs found in gardens are aphid predators. Some species prefer only certain aphids while others will seek out and dine on most any kind of aphid. Some prefer mite or scale species. If aphids are scarce, they'll feed on the eggs of moths, beetles, mites, thrips, and other small insects, as well as pollen and nectar. Not as delicate and refined as they seem, they'll also feed on their own young. Because of their ability to survive on other prey when aphids are in short supply, ladybugs are particularly valuable natural enemies. Ladybugs overwinter as adults, often in aggregations along hedgerows, beneath leaf litter, under rocks and bark, and in other protected places including buildings. In spring, the adults disperse in search of prey and suitable egg laying sites. This dispersal trait, especially strong in migratory species such as the commercially available convergent lady beetle, affects the reliability of released adult beetles.

How do I attract this beneficial insect to my garden?

  • Plant small and shallow-faced flowers, which provide easy access to nectar and pollen: Plant alyssum, herbs from the dill and mint families, and flowers from the daisy family, such as cosmos and coreopsis.
  • Purchase a starter community of adult ladybugs and encourage it to grow.  Or use the garden starter pack or 2 beneficial insects and a good nematode to boot (ladybugs, nematodes and lacewings) to kickstart your community of beneficial insects in the garden - click here.

Beneficial insect 2 - Parasitic Wasps

Several tiny wasps are parasites of garden pests. Most common are the Ichneumon wasps, Braconid wasps (pictured above), and Chalcid wasps. You're much more likely to see the work of these tiny parasitic wasps than the insects themselves: a tomato hornworm festooned with white rice-like cocoons, or a black or golden aphid mummy with a tiny hole in it. Don't flinch at the mention of wasps.

These are not the aggressive yellow jackets or ominous looking black paper wasps. Few species of parasitic wasps sting, and only when picked up and mishandled. They're so tiny you unlikely to be aware of their presence. There are several species of Ichneumon wasps that parasitize garden pests such as cutworms, corn earworm, white grubs, and various caterpillars. The largest of this group, these adult wasps range in size from 1/8 to 1-1/2 inches with long antennae, legs, and long, slender bodies. Females have long tail-like egg-laying tubes. Colors range from black to yellowish. Braconid wasps are tiny, ranging from 1/16- to 5/16-inch long, with stout bodies. Host pests include various species of aphids, garden webworm, tomato hornworm, armyworms, strawberry leaf roller, and tent caterpillar, among others. Most are dark with some colored markings, but they are so tiny it is hard to see these colors without magnification. Chalcid wasps range from 1/64 to 5/16 inch in length. They do not fold their wings when at rest like other wasps. This group includes the well-known Trichogramma wasp, commonly available commercially for pest control purposes because it is an effective parasite of most moth and butterfly whose larvae are garden pests, including cabbage worm, tomato hornworm, corn earworm, codling moth, cutworm, armyworm, webworm, cabbage looper, and corn borer. Other Chalcid species parasitize aphids, strawberry leaf roller, and other hairy caterpillars.

How do I attract this beneficial insect to my garden?

  • Supply them with food and moisture. Adult wasps feed on nectar and pollen. Small and shallow-faced flowers provide easy access to these tiny beneficial insects. Plant alyssum, herbs from the dill family, and flowers from the daisy family. If you have a bird bath or pool in your garden, place stones in the water so wasps have a place to land and drink safely.

Beneficial insect 3 - Lacewings

Lacewings are found throughout the United States. They are predators of many garden pests including aphids, thrips, mites, whiteflies, and other small, soft-bodied pests and their eggs. The larvae is shown above. They are yellowish-gray, mottled with brown, and have large mouthparts. They reach 3/8 inch long before pupation. These are commonly called aphid lions, and they are voracious feeders, eating 200 or more pests or their eggs per week between hatching and pupation.

Most adult lacewings get their sustenance from pollen, nectar, and the honeydew produced by aphids and scales. Some species also feed upon pests. Adults of the most common species are slender and bright green, with delicate veined wings and long antennae. Eggs of lacewings are easy to identify. The female lays eggs on leaves in groups. Each egg is held aloft on a threadlike stalk. Eggs hatch in 3 to 5 days; the larval stage lasts 2 or three weeks. Pupation lasts about 5 days, and adults live for 4 to 6 weeks. Females lay about 200 eggs in that time. There are 3 to 4 generations per year.

How do I attract this beneficial insect to my garden?

  • Provide food and moisture. Small and shallow-faced flowers provide adult lacewings easy access to pollen and nectar. Plant alyssum, herbs from the dill family, and flowers from the daisy family. If you have a bird bath or pool in your garden, place stones in the water so lacewings have a place to land and drink safely.
  • Purchase a starter community of 2 beneficial insects and a good nematode to boot(ladybugs, nematodes and lacewings) to kickstart your community of beneficial insects in the garden - click here.

(Content provided by NationalGardening.com, the online publisher of the National Gardening Association.)





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