Some gardeners may get the urge to zap any insect they may see in the vegetable garden. Before ridding the insect from your garden, you may want to do some research – the critter just might be helping your vegetable garden. There are some insects that defend your precious vegetables by eating or infecting the naughty bugs that are out to destroy all your hard work. These beneficial insects are the unsung heroes of the vegetable garden.
The great thing about having beneficial insects in the vegetable garden is they are the best form of pesticides. Imploring practices to lure beneficial insects into your vegetable garden is a natural method of battling pests without having to buy expensive and harmful chemicals, keeping your organic garden organic. Let’s identify some of the most common beneficial insects you may find in your garden.The next post will describe ways to attract these great vegetable garden helpers.
Ladybugs, also called lady beetles or ladybird beetles, are probably the most commonly found beneficial insect. They are the natural enemies of aphids, scale bugs, and other sap feeding insects. Adult ladybugs have hemispherical bodies that can be orange, pink, red, yellow, or black with distinctive spots. Do not get ladybugs confused with cucumber beetles. They look very similar to ladybugs, but cucumber beetles have longer antennae and are a bright yellow in color.
Adult female ladybugs usually lay clusters of eggs underneath leaves in the vicinity of prey insects. The alligator-looking larvae are also pest eaters, and can typically devour more insects than an adult. The larvae are spiny and black with bright spots. Although they look dangerous, they are harmless to humans.
The assassin bug is very interesting insect that is a great warrior of the vegetable garden. There are many different species of the assassin bugs including the millipede assassin bug, the ant assassin bug, or the milkweed assassin bug. Some assassin bugs look similar to stink bugs while others may resemble a spider. Assassin bugs sneak up on their prey and attack using a three-segmented beak. They use this beak to puncture the prey insect and induce a toxic fluid. The toxic fluid breaks down the tissue of the prey insect and the assassin bug then sucks the fluid out.
Assassin bugs vary in color and can be black, brown, yellow, gray, green and some species have other very bright markings. They have long antennae and long, skinny legs. The assassin bug’s head has a long neck with the beak or sucker part underneath.
Try not to handle an assassin bug as they can have a very painful bite. The bite can cause some infections and has been known to spread disease in South America and other tropical regions.
Lacewings are a very delicate looking insect that usually measures about 15-22 mm long as adults with transparent, lacey-looking wings. These wings are where the lacewing get their name. Lacewings are either green or brown in color, with the brown types being the most predatory.
Lacewings snack on aphids, mites, scale bugs, and many other garden pests.
The ground beetle makes up one of the largest families of beetles in the country, with over 220 different species. Most ground beetles are black and shiny with hard, ridged wing covers on the back. They also have short antennae and a small head. Ground beetles are easily confused with some cockroaches because they have a similar shape and size, but beetles have hardened front wings where as the roach has leathery wings. Most ground beetle species do not use their wings but will fly to lights at night from time to time.
Adult ground beetles are active at night, and mostly hide under objects during the day. The ground beetles come out at night to feast on unsuspecting insects. They feed on caterpillars, root maggots, snails, slugs, grubs, and other soft bodied insects. Ground beetle larvae are also important predators, since they feed on below ground pests.
The praying mantis is one of the most popular and intriguing insects in the garden. They are either brown or green in color, have a very long, stick-like body, and a triangular shaped head. The insects holds its front two legs in a bent position, and resembles a praying position – hence the name praying mantis.
The praying mantis will lie in hiding, using its color as camouflage, and ambush approaching insects for a quick meal. The down side to having praying mantis in the garden is that they will also eat other beneficial insects. The praying mantis will devour just about any insect it can get a hold of.
The Parasitic wasp doesn’t really eat bad bugs like the previously mentioned critters – they use the insects as nurseries for their young. Generally the parasitic wasp will lay its eggs in or on an insect so the baby wasps have food when they hatch. Having this wasp in the garden is a great solution for controlling caterpillars, weevils, cutworms, and hornworms. The parasitic wasp pulls double duty as well by being a good pollinator.
Parasitic wasp are very small and can be anywhere from 1/4-inch to 3/4-inch long with long, thread-like antennae. You will usually see the work of a parasitic wasp before you actually see the insect itself. Parasitic wasps have a wide range of colors from black to yellow and red.
This is just a handful of the beneficial insects you may find working hard in your vegetable garden. If you come across an insect that you are unsure of its identity, you can collect it in a jar and take it to a local nursery. The fine people there might be able to identify it.
You could also buy an insect field guide to help identify the beneficial insects from the bad insects. There are also some very good online resources such as bugguide.net, and whatsthatbug.com. Both of these websites are invaluable for identifying beneficial insects.
Now that we have covered how to identify some common beneficial insects, next we’ll find out how to attract these vegetable garden soldiers!
What are some beneficial insects that you have found in your vegetable garden? Please share!