Beneficial Insects

Natural Pest Control

Many people have been asking me how I deal with insect control in the garden since I don’t use pesticide.  It required a few years of organic gardening, but the eco system in our garden has come back into balance.  The first couple of years were a little difficult since the pest insects seemed to move in quickly and had a field day with our vegetables and flowers.  Now?  The damage is minimal.

Birds are the best insect control.  Frogs, toads, spiders and snakes also help a lot.  Snakes spook everyone out of the way, me included.  They do try to stay out of sight and out of the way though, which I appreciate.  They are the quiet partners in rodent control when not poisoned.

What fascinates me most are the predator insects, they or their larvae consume other insects.  Some will go for a particular type of insect but others don’t pick and choose; they eat anything they can grab.  The well known beneficial insects like Lady Beetles and Mantis are being sold commercially.   Below are some of the lesser known good guys I found in my garden:

Ambush bug waiting patiently to ambush other bugs
Ambush bug waiting patiently to ambush other bugs
Bagged a wasp
Bagged a wasp

The in-discriminatory Ambush bug (Phymata americana) is very hard to spot since their color blends in very well with the plants they choose and once positioned, don’t move.

Spined Soldier bug nabbed a bumblebee, a good guy, but they nab the bad too
Spined Soldier bug nabbed a bumblebee, a good guy, but they nab the bad too

I have a difficulty differentiating this Spined Soldier bug (Podisus maculiventris) and the invasive brown Marmorated Stink Bug.  As far as I know the Spined Soldier bugs don’t try to hibernate in the house like the brown Stink bugs do.

Digger Wasp
Digger Wasp

Both male and female of this hairy Digger Wasp (Scolia dubia) forage on flowers during the day.  The female also prey on grubs, paralyzing it and laying her eggs on it.

Great Golden Digger Wasp
Great Golden Digger Wasp

This larger size Great Golden Digger Wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus) preys on katydids and crickets.

Mason Wasp
Mason Wasp

The females of this solitary Mason Wasp (Monobia quardridens) prey on Cutworms by paralyzing them and storing them in her nest for her larvae.

Robber Fly
Robber Fly

The adult Robber Fly (Promachus fitchii) preys on other insects indiscriminately.  Their larvae eat the larvae of May beetles (Phyllophaga fusca) when they are just white grubs.

Tachina Fly
Tachina Fly

As more Stink bugs (Banasa dimiata) moved in, I have seen more and more of the Tachina Fly (Trichopoda pennipes) in the garden.  The females attach their eggs to a variety of insects on which the larvae will feed.  Tachina Flies are sometimes used in the biological control of plant-eating Stink bugs and Leaf-footed bugs.

The next wasp or an insect you just about to swat may be your great ally.  By keeping them around will make pest control in your garden easier and safer.

References:

  • Insects: Their Natural History and Diversity by Stephen A. Marshall
  • Flies: The Natural History and Diversity of Diptera by Stephen A. Marshall
  • Garden Insects of North America by Whitney Cranshaw
  • Natural Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America by Arthur V. Evans
  • Bring Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens by Douglas W. Tallamy
  • The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control Edited by Fern Marshall Bradley, Barbara W. Ellis, and Deborah L. Martin

Friends in the Garden

Don’t Mash Them on Sight

There are countless species of insect in each garden if you look closely enough.  Most of us mash the unknown bugs at first sight especially when they look intimidating or ugly.  Fine, they may not look cute like Ladybug (Coleoptera coccinellidae) but most of them are pollinators and a lot of them help you rid your garden of pests.  Not all the unknowns are out to get our plants; they may be our allies.  Give them a chance to live and be part of your world and give yourself a chance to have an easy work in the garden.

I have always been curious about insects since my youth.  I used to catch them, pin them and look them up.  Now, I just photograph them and look them up.  Less bad Karma this way.  If they turned out to be bad guys for the garden, they’d better hide from me next time.

It’s been a challenge for me each year to see what new insects show up in our garden, both friend and foe.  Both pretty and ugly.  It’s very much like a treasure hunt, only these treasure will fly away from me most of the time.  I take it as a personal accomplishment if I find a new beneficial insect or more of the beneficial ones that are already in the garden.

I do organic gardening, so chemical and pesticides are not in the equation.  Insect infestation is not my problem though.  Between the birds and carnivorous insects patrolling the garden, the bad insect population control is pretty much done.  I still have a little problem with Japanese beetles, but far less than before.  These are some of the hard to spot or intimidating little guys in our garden.

Ambush Bug (Phymata americana) embedded herself in the Summersweet flowers.
Great Golden Digger Wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus) loves taking nectar from flowers. They also take other insects as food for their larvae.
Robber Fly (Promachus fitchii) in the act of catching his prey.
Mason Wasp (Monobia quadridens) loves taking nectar from flowers and takes cutworms for their young.
Two of the strange looking Hover Flies. They are great pollinators though.
One of many types of Hover Fly (Syrphidae, not sure of exact type) in the garden

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