Tag Archives: beneficial insects

Beneficial Bugs: Earthworms

Beneficial Bugs: Earthworms.

Class: Chilopoda

From the time we are kids, we are told that worms are good for the garden and soil, but we rarely are ever told why. Earthworms can eat their weight in decaying plant matter every day. That thick band you see toward one end of their bodies is the area that holds their reproductive organs. Two worms become impregnated by each other and offspring can live for 10-12 years.

Earthworm castings (excrement) greatly improve the texture and mineral content of the soil. They are high in phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium, all minerals many soils would lack without these soil dwellers.

To encourage worms in your garden, make sure to add plenty of compost to keep them in your garden soil. If they do not have organic matter in the soil to feed on, they will go elsewhere.

Beneficial Bugs: Robber Flies

robber_flies05Order: Diptera. Family: Syrphidae

Some robber flies are chunky and look a bit like bumble bees, but in general, they are slender and look a bit like damsel flies. They eat flies, bees, beetles and grasshoppers by dropping down on them from above. Robber flies are also rarely affected by other insect’s natural defenses.

The face of a robber fly looks bearded and like it is hollow between their bulging eyes. Usually 1/5 to 1 1/4 inches in size, they are usually found in meadows across the U.S. The larvae or maggots live in decaying wood or in the soil and feed on beetle larvae.

Beneficial Insects: Aphidiid Wasp

Aphidiid WaspAphidiid Wasp
Order: Hymenoptera. Family: Apidiinae

Average Size: They vary in size but are just slightly larger than an adult aphid: about 1/8 inch.

As the name implies, these wasps love aphids. They are all black and look similar to an ant with wings. The females lay their eggs inside the aphid and when they hatch, the young feed on the aphid eventually killing it. Almost (almost) makes you feel sorry for aphids. But not when they are chewing up your potatoes or brussels.

Active in the late summer and fall, aphidiid females can parasitize hundreds of aphids per day. You’ll know you have these wasps around if you see “aphid mummies” or paper-bag colored aphid shells stuck to leaves.

Beneficial Insects: Tiger Beetle.

tiger_beetleOrder: Coleoptera. Family: Cicindelidae

Average Size: 1/2 to 3/4 inch.

Varying in color from metallic blue to a bronze color, green or purple, tiger beetles can run pretty fast with their long legs. Their prey of choice is ants, smaller beetles, grasshoppers and aphids. Because they run so quickly, you will probably not be able to spot one in the garden or elsewhere.

Tiger beetles are attracted to lights and warmth. They will sun themselves along roads, the edges of well-warn pathways and bare patches of soil or sand.

The larvae are shaped like an “S” and have a humped back and strong hooks on their abdomens that allow them to anchor themselves in the soil to seize prey which they drag back to their burrow to eat.

See our main gardening page, Garden Circkles, for much more information than what is posted on this blog, including full articles on greenhouse growing, sustainable and organic tips, beneficial bugs, the latest techniques such as aquaponics and vertical growing and much more.

Beneficial Insects: Rove Beetles.

rove_beetleOrder: Coleoptera. Family: Staphylindae
Average Size: 1/16 to 3/4 inch.

Very similar to earwigs, but the Rove beetle has pinchers in the front jaws where earwigs have their pinchers as their tails.

Usually black or brown in color, rove beetles eat insects, where earwigs eat plants. Rove beetle larvae dine on aphids, fly eggs, maggots, mites, nematodes and springtails.

Rove beetles are usually found under refuse such as leaves, grass or bark and can be found on fungi or flowers and are common in compost piles. To keep them around, maintain a permanent bed of mulch or a stone path they can hide in.

See our main gardening page, Garden Circkles, for much more information than what is posted on this blog, including full articles on greenhouse growing, sustainable and organic tips, beneficial bugs, the latest techniques such as aquaponics and vertical growing and much more.

Beneficial Insects: Mealy Bug Destroyers.

Order: Coleoptera. Family: Coccinellidae
Average Size: 1/8 inch..

Sometimes called crypts (short for their scientific name Cryptolaemus montrouzieri) look very similar to ladybugs, but with an orange-red head area and tips of wings.

Although they will also eat the occasional aphid and scale insects, their favorite food is mealybugs. You will find crypts in areas that do not have severe winters and can also be purchased through some gardening catalogs to place in greenhouses.

Ants tend to destroy crypts because they in turn destroy mealybugs and ants protect mealybugs for the sweet, cottony substance they excrete. The crypt larvae look like giant mealybugs so be very careful which one you are destroying when you spray plants or squash the bugs.

Photos from top: 1.) Adult mealybug destroyer or crypt. 2.) The white, stringy-looking object is the larvae of the crypt or mealybug destroyer eating an aphid.

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Beneficial Insects: Ladybug / Ladybird Beetle.

ladybug-larvaeOrder: Coleoptera. Family: Coccinellidae

Average Size: 1/8″ to5/8″.

Something not many people know, even avid gardeners, is that ladybugs come in different colors and do not always have spots. They can also be brown, black, yellow, gray and orange besides their common red color with black spots.

The larvae of the ladybug looks nothing like the adult. They are more alligator-shaped and do not have a smooth shell, but once you spot one, you will remember what they look like. They are usually dark brown to black and have a 2 distinctive red bands on their back. They are voracious eaters of aphids, so learning to recognize them and protect them is a plus.

The adults like tall grasses, so it’s not always advantageous to cut every bit of grass in your yard. They also like borage, tansy, geranium and angelica.

Ladybugs purchased from garden suppliers don’t always stay where you want them and will usually fly away, but here are a few tips to try to make them stay put:
– Release them just before sunup or just after dusk.
– Lay them gently at the base of aphid-infested plants.
– Spray plants with water just before releasing them.

Photo: Adult ladybug and larvae chasing some aphids on the leaf.

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Beneficial Insects: Ground Beetles.

ground-beetleOrder: Coleoptera. Family: Carabidae
Average Size: 1/8″ to 1″.

Ground beetles are usually found under rocks or other debris in gardens, fields and woods. You will also find them under a compost pile quite often. When disturbed they may give off a foul odor. They feed on other ground-dwelling larvae and insect eggs, but are partial to cutworms, gypsy moth larvae and root maggots.

The adults have a blue-black or dark brown hard outer shell with a bronze or green metallic sheen to it at times. To attract ground beetles, plant white clover as a ground cover or put down some stone or paving bricks as a path for them to hide under.

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Beneficial Insects: Green Lacewings.

lace wingOrder: Neuroptera. Family: Chrysopidae

Average Size: 1/2″ to 3/4″.

The alligator-shaped larvae of this beneficial look like a nasty pest but they use their curved mandibles to impale aphids and other soft-bodied insects and suck them dry. Hence their name of aphid lions. They also feed on spider mites (especially red mites), thrips, whitefly, leafhoppers, some beetle larvae, eggs and caterpillars of moths, and mealybugs. The larvae will eat for 2-3 weeks, spin a cocoon, and 10-14 days later, emerge as adults.

lace wing eggsGreen lacewings are available from some commercial gardening centers and are good at sticking around in your garden if you supply them with nectar producing plants and foliage to lay their eggs.
Pale green to gray eggs are attached to slender stalks. This protects them from cannibalism from the newly hatched larvae who emerge with such a veracious appetite they will even eat their own kind.

Adults feed on insects also but prefer nectar, and are usually found among weeds, grass and the leaves of trees. To encourage them to hang around, grow nectar-producing plants such as sunflowers, angelica, corn and some flowering weeds or herbs.

Photos from top: 1.) Adult lacewing. 2.) Lacewing eggs.

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Beneficial Insects: Ant Lions. 

antlion-larvae-inhandOrder: Neuroptera. Family: Myrmeleontidae

Adult ant lions may resemble damselflies, but their antennae are longer and blunter at the ends. They have long, thin bodies and transparent, veiny wings. Their larvae are often called doodlebugs because of the odd winding, spiraling trails it leaves in the sand while looking for a good location to build its trap that look like someone has doodled in the sand.

ant lion_hole

The larvae body is covered with spines and they have pincher-like antennae in front. They eat ants, hiding at the bottom of their funnel-shaped traps for a curious ant to slide down the sloping sides of the pit. Both the larvae and adults eat small insects including ticks. Average adult size is one and a half inches to four inches.

ant lion_adultTypically found in southern and southwestern areas of the U.S. in sandy soils.

Photos: 1.) Ant lion larvae in palm of a hand for size ratio. 2.) Ant Lion pit or doodle.
3.) Adult Ant lion.