Monday, July 7, 2008

Please don't kill that bug!

Hello everyone! Hope you're refreshed and enjoying yourself after the 4th weekend. We had a great time relaxing with friends and family. Even snuck in a discussion of peak oil and its ramifications here and there...poolside, no less. Ah, sweet irony.

After my blog on nasty garden bugs, I promised to follow up with this one, which will feature some of the dudes you want to keep around. So if you see these guys, please don't raise your fist or get out your pinching claws. These are the ladies and fellahs who help support your organic jones. Don't kill them!

Now why do they support your organic jones? Because diversity is the key to a healthy garden (and many other things, but we're talking gardens here). If you have a plethora of veggies, foliage, fruit, and bugs they all get to benefit from one another. Multiple plants draw in multiple bugs which helps balance their populations (i.e. they eat each other like mad). This is probably also why mono-cropping organically, particularly on a large scale, is an unlikely prospect. We want riots of color, texture, and variety.

Many of these bugs you probably recognize right off, like the adorable ladybug.

The Lovely Lady Bug
(image courtesy:

Why we really love them - beheading an aphid(image courtesy:

Ladybugs also come in oranges and ivories, although I haven't seen any ivory ones. Be sure to protect the nymphs and the eggs, too.



Next, of course, is the bee of which there are many varieties. The honeybee is a major pollinator and is also falling prey to a mysterious illness euphemistically called Colony Collapse Disorder, which you can read more about here.

Honey bees(image courtesy:

Get well soon, little fellah!(image courtesy:

If you really want a massively hungry and warlike creature in your garden (a good warlike creature, a scourge, if you will) then be sure to cultivate any and all friendships with these guys:

Praying Mantis(image courtesy:

Mantises eat flies and aphids and the bigger dudes actually have a taste for meat, stalking lizards, frogs, birds, rodents, and snakes! Holy camoley.

Lacewings are a common garden visitor, as well, and someone you want to be friends with. While the adults stick to pollen and aphid honeydew, the larvae are voracious feeders, pigging out on aphids, caterpillars (yes!), beetles, scale insects, leafhoppers, thrips, small flies, mites, and sometimes one another. I guess they're temperamental.

Here's a good website on lacewing activity with loads of pictures.

Adult Lacewing

Lacewing nymph
(image courtesy:

Another keeper is the ground beetle. It eats anything it can catch and kill, including grubs. Hang on to them. They only come out at night and they mind their business. Don't pick them up, though, because they emit a nasty smell.

Ground beetle

If you're lucky you might spot a robber fly. I saw a couple of these over the past few weeks in the back yard and I didn't know what they were until just now (as of this writing when I found them online!)...they look like mean-ass dragon flies but they eat all sorts of things we prefer not to be bothered with ourselves, such as wasps. Call in the robber flies and avoid the poison sprays! They also eat grasshoppers and other prey as big as themselves oftentimes. Now that's some insect muscle flex!

Call me deadly - Robber Fly

I will eat you!

The tachinid fly does us a favor by laying its eggs on another species, typically caterpillars but also bugs and grasshoppers. The eggs eventually hatch and burrow into said species, basically using it as a food source. Like that giant alien did to humans in the Alien series (Sigourney, I love you!). Very medieval nasty stuff. But hey, in this case, we benefit. There are 1300 species of tachinid fly in North America - mostly they're gray, black, or striped, but they can be hard to distinguish from regular house flies.

Tachinid fly

House fly
If they're flying around, chances are you won't be able to tell which is which. Moral? Leave 'em be. The other predators and frogs should be able to sort out extras of either species, anyway.

Predatory wasps do much the same thing. You can tell a predatory wasp from a regular wasp because the predator is smaller. The ones I've seen are a slightly orangey color and have small greyish-bluish wings - they remind me of flying tripods, sort of like a cross between a wasp and a fly.I'm not sure if they sting humans, but they haven't ever bothered me (then again, I'm not the sort of person who freaks out when they see a wasp or bee). They eat aphids, whiteflies, and moths, such as cabbage loopers and hornworms. Think small attack drone, specially designed for dangerous reconnoitering missions.

Brachonid predatory wasp predatorizing

Eggs on a caterpillar becomes parasite and host

Here are a few more to keep around - be friendly-like...

Assassin Bug - flies, mosquitoes, beetles, caterpillars
(image courtesy:

Centipede -
slugs, worms, fly pupae
(image courtesy:

Damselfly and Dragonfly - beautiful and voracious, love mosquito tartare and aphids

Rove Beetle -
aphids, springtails, mites, nematodes, slugs, snails, maggots, and compost makers
The day the Rove beetle larvae met the housefly maggot... (friendship did not ensue)(image courtesy:

Yellow Jackets - caterpillars, flies, beetle grubs (and sting us human folk, too)
(image courtesy:

Spiders eat more bugs and insects than any other beneficial per year, combined!!! Do watch out for black widows which like to make webs inside stored planting pots.

Spiders are garden heroes!!!
(image courtesy:

Soldier Beetle - aphids, caterpillars, grasshopper eggs, beetle larvae
(image courtesy:

Firefly!!! - larvae, snails, slugs

So that just about does it...I'm sure there are many more and I thought about including earthworms, which are my personal favorite garden creature. But I think I'll dedicate a whole blog to the precious worm.

In the meantime, please know your bugs. Get to know them. Watch them. See if you can catch them eating. I got to watch a lady bug take down an aphid bite by bite last week - it was amazing! Re-think the use of broad-spectrum pesticides...use diversity to invite good bugs to do your dirty work for you.

Two good websites for more information:


Bee said...

*shudder* That was a creepy, informative post. Thanks for doing all the research. I love me some lady bugs. =)

Tara said...

We have many, many blue mud dauber wasps at our new place. They don't bother us a bit because they're not at all aggressive, but I just learned that they prey primarily on black widow spiders! On the one hand, I think that's great. On the other hand, it prompts me to wonder, just how many black widows do we have?!!?

Hausfrau said...

You are so helpful!

Also, in researching spider mites, I found that "use of a broad spectrum insecticide" was cited as one main cause for an outbreak. Another reason to rethink!

Melissa said...

cool post...I only have container gardens, but I'm amazed (even on the second floor balcony) how much bug activity they get up there! My general rule is unless it's clearly devouring my plants or biting me, I try to leave it alone.

Aunt Debbi/kurts mom said...

This is the best benificial bug blog post I have seen. Great job.

Lewru said...

Thanks, guys! I wanted to get it all in one place because I've been seeing so many lately. 'Tis the season!

Dameon Grey said...

I. Love. Bugs. And spiders and such, except for centipedes, they still creep me out.

I loved reading this, I always wish people would know more about how beneficial bugs are to our existence, how mandatory they're 600 million year reign has been to our planet's evolution and success!

I was wondering where you got a lot of your information, or if you know of a website that would have information such as "How many insects a year spiders consume." Or how many harmful insects or something.

I loved it! I look forward to more entomology specific posts! ^w^

Lewru said...

Hello Dameon,
Thank you for your kind words! I gathered the information for this post from the many websites I visited (linked under the pictures), as well as from my gardening books at home (my favorite being Rodale's Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening). Thanks for reading!

sciences said...

Good post. I learn something new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon everyday. It will always be exciting to read articles from other authors and practice a little something from their sites.

Sara's Place said...

Just thought you might like to know people are still reading this post ;) I actually have it bookmarked to help my 4 year old and I identify all the creep-crawlies in our backyard.

I do feel slightly guilty about my use of chickens as broad spectrum pesticides. Sadly, they eat the good and bad bugs and have found creative ways to get over and through the garden fence. But at least the love them some squash beetles!