When I was younger bugs freaked me out. As I got older I’ve found I can handle things like ladybugs and fireflies but most bugs still kind of give me a little chill down my spine. They’re so darned fast and they have all those legs! When I first started gardening I either ran away from or killed every bug that I saw. Now, decades later, I’ve come to appreciate some of those critters. Not all bugs are good but if you want your garden to thrive don’t get rid of these bugs!
This is an actual bug not just a description. They are small (1/4 inch long), grayish-beige, oval shaped) bugs with large eyes that feed on many small insects such as leaf hoppers, spider mites), insect eggs, and mites, as both nymphs and adults. Eggs are football shaped, whitish-gray with red spots.
Unless you abuse them braconid wasps are harmless to you but deadly to many garden pests! The adult female of this species injects its eggs into host insects, including caterpillars, moths, beetle larvae, and aphids. The larvae feed inside the host and it dies once the larvae have completed development. Nectar plants with small flowers, such as dill, parsley, wild carrot, and yarrow will attract these beneficial wasps to your garden. If you see a caterpillar or other harmful insect with little white things attached don’t kill the host.
Drop it in a jar with some holes poked in the lid and feed it. They larvae will mature and fly out of the holes giving you even more braconid wasps!
Damsel bugs are more commonly found in field crops such as alfalfa and soybean than in row crops or orchards. Grassy fields tend to have more damsel bugs than do broadleaf weed or weed-free fields. Collect them for your garden by using a sweep net. Damsel bugs feed on aphids, small caterpillars, leafhoppers, thrips, and other pesky pests.
The ground beetle is a nocturnal predator of slugs, snails, cutworms, cabbage maggots, and other pests that live in your garden’s soil. A single beetle larva can eat more than 50 caterpillars. White clover or perennial plantings provide a stable home for these beetles.
Adult hoverflies look like little bees that hover and dart around very quickly. They don’t sting so don’t be afraid of these helpful flies! They are also known as syrphid ﬂy, predatory aphid fly or ﬂower ﬂy. They lay white, oval eggs either singly or in groups on leaves. These eggs hatch into green, yellow, brown, orange or white maggots that look like little caterpillars. They rise up on their hind legs to catch and feed on aphids, mealybugs and others. Dill, coriander, and parsley attract these flies.
Both adult lacewings and their larvae eat aphids, caterpillars, mealybugs, scales, thrips, and whiteflies. They are sometimes called aphid lions for their habit of dining on aphids. They also feed on mites, other small insects and insect eggs. On spring and summer evenings, lacewings can sometimes be seen clinging to porch lights and screens or windows. Tolerate light aphid outbreaks, because they are an important food source for lacewing larvae.
Adult lady beetles eat aphids, mites, and mealybugs, and their hungry larvae do even more damage to garden pests. The young larvae are black with orange markings and they eat more pests than the adults, and they can’t ﬂy. Planting dill, fennel, and yarrow will attract these beetles. Lady beetle larvae also need aphids for food so don’t immediately wipe out a light outbreak.
Minute Pirate Bugs
The quick-moving, black-and-white minute pirate bugs will attack almost any insect. These are tiny insects about 1/20 of an inch long. Attract these bugs with Goldenrods, daisies, alfalfa, and yarrow will attract these helpful bugs. These tiny fellows can deliver a bite and the reaction can be anything from nothing at all to a mosquito bite type of irritation to a hard, red bump. Fortunately, they do not inject any kind of venom nor feed on your blood. The good they do in the garden is worth a minor bite.
The soldier beetle feeds on aphids and caterpillars, as well as other insects—including harmless and beneficial species. Attract this flying insect by allowing some herbs to flower and by planting brightly colored flowers. These insects resemble fireflies but lack the glowing bottom!
Spined Soldier Bug
Spined soldier bug
The spined soldier bug’s pointed “shoulders” distinguish it from stink bugs.
These bugs attack over 90 species of harmful insects including gypsy moths, Mexican bean beetles, European corn borers, and Colorado potato beetles, all of which can take a hefty toll on crops. Attract the spined soldier bug by planting permanent beds of perennials to provide shelter or by purchasing spined soldier bug pheromones to lure this predator of hairless caterpillars and beetle larvae.
Tachinid fly larvae burrow their way into many caterpillars, destroying these garden pests from the inside. Herbs including dill, parsley, sweet clover, attract adult flies.
Pictures courtesy of Rodale’s Organic Life