It's a fact - there are bugs who eat your plants. But there are also bugs who eat the bugs who eat your plants, and we call them beneficial insects. These garden helpers work behind the scenes to help you control harmful insect populations. Below is a list of a few beneficials that you should consider adding to your circle of friends. Be sure to learn what they look like at all stages of their life cycle; insects often look completely different in their larval stage than they do when they're adults.
The ladybug or lady beetle, is a small, orange or red, oval-shaped insect with black spots. The larva of the ladybug is a segmented insect, mostly black with some orange markings. Adult and larva lady bugsboth eat spider mites, mealybugs and aphids. If you want to attract ladybugs to your garden (which is recommended!), plant flowers among your vegetable plants. Wildflowers like dandelions and Queen Anne's lace will also attract ladybugs.
The green lacewing is a flying insect with a slender green body and large, net-like, transparent wings. In the larval stage, lacewings are grayish brown and wingless. The lacewing has a varied diet that includes aphids, spider mites, insect eggs and even small caterpillars. They will also eat leaf hopper nymphs who, in their adult stage can become a serious crop pest.
Dragonflies are predatory insects who eat mosquitoes and other pest bugs like aphids. What's not to love about an insect who eats mosquitoes? Dragonflies have big eyes and long slender bodies that range in size from 1 to 2 inches, and they come in a variety of colors. The have four long transparent wings that lay flat out to the sides of their bodies when they are at rest. They lay eggs in water and their larva may take years to reach the adult stage. Placing your garden near a wetlands area or a pond will increase your chances of having dragonflies in your garden. Damselflies are usually smaller than dragonflies with wings that fold along the side of their bodies when they are at rest.
Honey bees, mason bees and bumblebees are three of many species of bees whose claim to fame is pollination. Many vegetables and fruit trees must be pollinated in order to produce fruit. Honey bees are not only important pollinators, they also produce honey. You can entice them into your garden by planting flowers with pollen and nectar. If you're adventurous, you may consider investing in a hive of your own. Bumble bees can tolerate colder temperatures and are important pollinators of fall crops. They nest in leaf litter on the ground so make sure to leave a patch of last autumn's leaves close by the garden. Mason bees look more like house flies than bees. They specialize in pollinating fruit trees.
Spiders aren't really insects; they are arachnids. They have eight legs instead of six and most species of spiders have silk and/or poison glands. They capture their prey by injecting them with poison or snaring them in webs. There are a few species of spiders whose poison can be harmful to humans so, if you live in an area of the country where there are poisonous spiders, make sure you know how to identify them. Most spiders are not a threat to humans but they eat many crop damaging insects.
If, in the past, you thought spiders were creepy, you may want to give them a second look through the eyes of a gardener. Spiders live in a variety of habitats; having a nearby area of high grass or dense shrubbery might increase the number of spider species in your garden.
Praying Mantis are long and slender, green or brown bodies creatures who are well camouflaged in the garden. Mantis have triangular shaped heads that can rotate 180 degrees or more depending on the particular species. When resting, the praying mantis holds its front legs in a position that resembles a person praying, hence its name. They are formidable predators who eat moths, grasshoppers, flies and other insects. Their head rotation allows them to remain very still while hunting. When an unsuspecting insect ventures near, the mantis quickly strikes out, grasping and holding its prey in spiked forelegs, while devouring it. Many organic gardeners buy praying mantis egg cases from garden supply stores as a way to control pest bugs. Be aware, praying mantis prey on beneficial bugs as well as pests and may even eat others of their own species. Moderation is probably a good idea when it comes to stocking your garden with these skillful hunters.
Parasitic wasps are usually small and do not sting people. They are helpful to a gardener because they lay their eggs in either the adult, or the larva of a pest. If you have ever seen a tomato hornworm with a cluster of white eggs on its back, you'll know that a parasitic wasp has been busy. The eggs use the host (the hornworm) to feed on, and in the process kills the host. Besides hornworms, parasitic wasps feed on cabbage loopers, white flies and moths. Parasitic wasps may be purchased from garden supply stores but they require a food source to sustain their populations. You can also plant flat flowers like alyssum or daisies to attract their population.
Bugs We Love Illustrated Chart!