To squish or not to squish, that is the question. It is an easy enough choice if it is a ladybug or a spider or mosquito or aphid. But what if it is a beetle? Or long and slinky with lots of legs? What if it looks like a cross between a wasp and a mosquito? What if it is larva of something? As I have been digging in the dirt this last month, it has occurred to me that I should learn to identify a few other good garden bugs. I came up with 6 that I found most interesting for various reasons.
1. The centipede eats all things slug, according to my well worn copy of Rodale’s Garden Problem Solver. I have seen several in my raised beds and was a little creeped out by their wriggly, multi-legged brick red bodies, but thought I had better look them up before I did something I regretted. Now, I can think of them as my own miniature armored warriors.
2. The ichneumon fly has a name that is fun to say, but I do believe that I previously had it confused with the crane fly. The crane fly, which is often confused as being a large mosquito, is a fairly nondescript fly whose larva eat garden plants. The ichneumon fly, or wasp, lays its eggs on destructive larva such as cutworms that are common in my garden. I have a faint recollection of having seen these skinny, long legged wasps in my yard and will treat them with more kindness from now on. Read here and here for more information on the ichneumon fly.
3. The minute (as in small) pirate bug is of much greater use than human pirates because what it wants to destroy is what we want destroyed. It eats just about everything you could hope it would, like aphids, whiteflies, and small caterpillars, and is one of the first helpers to arrive in the spring. Its small size could make it hard to identify, but doing might be worth the trouble if it keeps you from accidentally killing it when it is eating the insects that are really doing the damage. On the other hand, if there are not any suspects around to eat, the pirate bugs might also eat your plants, so you may need to evaluate. You can find more information and photos of the pirate bug here or here.
4. It sounds like hover flies are all around good guys to have on the premises. Their larva eat aphids and their bee-like adults aid with pollination. They are attracted to flowers categorized with daisies. They cannot sting or bite, which makes them even friendlier, and more vulnerable. This is a detailed article explaining how hover flies are different from wasps.
5. Green lacewings are fairly well known to be beneficial, but I sometimes forget just how much because they seem so ethereal. They won’t come around until average air temperatures are 70°F. Like with the hoverflies, it is the lacewing larva that are the useful eating machines, chowing down on things like corn ear worms, mites, aphids, and whiteflies. To see helpful photos of lacewings in all stages of life, go to this link.
6. Ground beetles are so unremarkable as to make them easy to take for granted and difficult to identify. They are unimpressively black or purplish and feed at night. In their favor, they tend to stay in the soil or shade where they don’t get the wrong kind of attention either. They might eat another good bug once in a while, but not as a habit, like the unreliable praying mantises which will even eat each other.
I plan on printing out photos to post of these bugs, except the centipede which I know now, for quick reference in my garage or greenhouse. Real “wanted posters.” I will include photos of larvae and eggs. I think I bought ladybugs once, may years ago, and did not notice any appreciable difference in my ladybug population. After doing this review, I can now remember that I have seen all of these good bugs prevalently without having to buy any. Keep in mind that like many plants, there seems to often be one in each category that is more of a scoundrel and troublemaker, so if it looks like a so-called beneficial insect might be actually damaging your plants, don’t feel like a failure. You can always bring in a praying mantis for a quick clean-up job?
Book sources and references:
Bug Busters: Poison-Free Pest Controls for Your House and Garden