Beneficial Insects for Plants

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Introduction

There are a great many beneficial insects in the garden and beneficial bugs for plants.  Beneficial insects (beneficial bugs) are any of a number of species of insects. Equally performing valued services like pollination and pest control. Gardeners and growers recognize the benefits provided by beneficial insects in the garden.  As well as the injury done by harmful ones. There are thousands of beneficial bugs for plants world wide.  However, we have listed the most common ones you will find in your garden. In addition, pictures are included.  So, you can determine if they are beneficial or harmful.

The concept of beneficial insects in the garden is simple.  And arises as a result of desired outcomes.  Above all, the goal is to raise bountiful, healthy crops.  Insects that hinder production are classified as pests.  On the other hand, insects that assist production are considered beneficial.  Furthermore, pest control without the use of man made pesticides, habitat integration, and ‘natural vitality’ aesthetics are the desired outcome of beneficial insects in the garden. As well as beneficial bugs for plants.

Beneficial Insects in the Garden

Listed below are the most common beneficial insects in the garden.  But also beneficial bugs for plants.  Take some time to familiarize ones you know.  And new ones, too.

Assassin Bug

Its’ use primarily is predatory insect.  The most distinctive feature of the assassin bug is the tip of the proboscis.  Fits into a ridged groove in the prosternum.  Also, it can be used to produce sound by stridulation. Sound is made by rasping against ridges in this groove stridulitrum (stridulatory organ). These sounds are often used to discourage predators.  When harassed, many species can deliver a painful stab.  Consequently, injecting venom or digestive juices. The effects can be intensely painful.  And the injection may be medically significant.

 

Assassin Bug
Assassin Bug: By JJ Harrison (https://www.jjharrison.com.au/) - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8784544

Bumble Bees

A bumblebee is any of over 250 species in the genus Bombus, part of Apidae, one of the bee families. It’s use as a beneficial bug for plants is pollination.  Female bumblebees can sting repeatedly, but generally ignore humans and other animals.  Most bumblebees are social insects that form colonies with a single queen. The colonies are smaller than those of honey bees, growing to as few as 50 individuals in a nest.

Bumble Bee
Bumble Bee: By Pahazzard - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27652607

Honey Bees

The best known honey bee is the Western honey bee which has been domesticated for honey production and crop pollination.  Also, the wax is valued for candle making and other crafts. Honey bees are only used for pollination. 

The Western honey bee is not native to the Americas. However, other native bee species were kept and traded by indigenous peoples.  Escaped swarms (known as “wild” bees or feral) spread rapidly as far as the Great Plains, usually preceding the colonists. They did not naturally cross the Rocky Mountains.  However, were transported by the Mormon pioneers to Utah in the late 1840s, and by ship to California in the early 1850s.

Honey Bee
Honey Bees: By Louise Docker - https://www.flickr.com/photos/aussiegall/6105263663, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16416449

Damsel Bugs

Damsel Bugs are soft-bodied, elongate, winged terrestrial predators. Many damsel bugs catch and hold prey with their forelegs, similar to mantids. They are considered helpful species in agriculture because of their predation on many types of crop pests.

They are most numerous in fields of legumes such as alfalfa.  But they can be found in many other crops and in non-cultivated areas. Yellow to tan in color.  Also have large, bulbous eyes and stilt like legs.  Generalist predators, catching almost any insect smaller than themselves, and cannibalizing each other when no other food is available.  Some will bite people when cornered, too.

Damsel Bug
Damsel Bug: Michael Becker - taken by Michael Becker

Earwig

Earwigs are mostly nocturnal and often hide in small, moist crevices during the day.   And are active at night, feeding on a wide variety of insects and plants. Damage to foliage, flowers, and various crops is commonly blamed on earwigs.  Especially the common earwig.

The common earwig is an omnivore, eating plants and ripe fruit as well as actively hunting arthropods. This species is also a scavenger, feeding on decaying plant and animal matter if given the chance. Observed prey include largely plant lice, but also large insects such as bluebottle flies and woolly aphids.  Plants they feed on include clover, dahlias, zinnias, butterfly bush, hollyhock, lettuce, cauliflower, strawberry, blackberry, sunflowers, celery, peaches, plums, grapes, potatoes, roses, seedling beans and beets, tender grass shoots and roots, and corn silk.

Nesting Earwig
Nesting Earwig: By Photo by Tom Oates, 2010, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11264136

Green Lacewing

Simply called lacewings.  Adults are nocturnal. They feed on pollen, nectar and honeydew supplemented with mites, aphids and other small insects.  And some, namely Chrysopa, are mainly predatory. Others feed almost exclusively on nectar and similar substances, and have symbiotic yeasts in their digestive tract to help break down the food into nutrients.

Eggs are placed on plants where aphids are present nearby in numbers.  Immediately after hatching, the larvae moult, then descend to feed. They are voracious predators, attacking most insects of suitable size.  Especially aphids, caterpillars and other insect larvae, insect eggs, and at high populations also each other. Therefore, the larvae are colloquially known as “aphid lions” or “aphid wolves”.  They are very sensitive to touch.

Walking around in a haphazard fashion, the larvae sway their heads from one side to the other, and when they strike a potential prey object, the larva grasps it.  A digestive secretion is then injected in the prey. The organs of an aphid can be dissolved in 90 seconds.

As with beneficial insects for plants, the larvae do the majority of attacking and devouring other insects.

Green Lacewing
Green Lacewing: By Mathias Krumbholz - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33591713
Lacewing Larvae
Lacewing Larvae: By Eric Steinert - from de.wiki, uploaded by kulac, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1698970

Ichneumonoidea

Ichneumonoids are solitary insects, and the vast majority are parasitoids; the larvae feed on or in another insect until it finally dies.  The larvaet go through distinctive larval, pupal, and adult stages (holometabolus).  In general, ichneumonoids are host specific, and only attack one or a few closely related host species. Many species use viruses to suppress the immune systems of their host insects.  As a matter of fact, forest insects.  Like, but not limited to, moths, butterflies, beetles, fly larvae and pupae.

Ichneumon Wasp Predatory Insect
Ichneumon Wasp: By Charles J Sharp - Own work, from Sharp Photography, sharpphotography, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64526315

Ladybugs

Also known as ladybugs, ladybird beetles, lady beetles.  The majority of ladybugs are considered useful insects.  Because many species prey on sucking insects.  Similarly aphids or scale insects.  Lady bugs are the most popular beneficial bugs for plants.  Laying their eggs directly in aphid and scale insect colonies.  Ensuring their larvae have immediate food source.  However, some species do have unwelcome effects.  The most prominent are the Mexican bean beetle.  Also, the Cucumber beetle.  They are plant eaters. However, are usually minor pests.   Eating the leaves of grain, potatoes, beans, and various other crops.  But their numbers can increase explosively.  Likewise, when their natural enemies are few. In such situations, do major crop damage.

Lady Bug
Lady Bug: By Charles J Sharp - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29071280

Mealy Bug Destroyer

Adults have the typical ladybird shape.  But, unlike many of the often brightly Ladybugs, are dark brown and have no spots. They show a waxy covering that makes them apparently look like the mealybugs they prey on. 

The adults and larvae of these insects eat scale insects, especially mealybugs. Females lay their eggs among the egg sack of mealybugs. Larvae feed on mealybug eggs, young crawlers and their honeydew.  The life span lasts two months.  Also, a very popular beneficial bug for plants indoors.

Mealy Bug Destroyer
Mealy Bug Destroyer: By Holger Casselmann - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25899822

Minute Pirate Bug

The Minute Pirate Bugs’ head is extended forward and the antennae are longer than the head and visible from above.  Possessing piercing and sucking three-segmented beak or labium used to inject prey. Coupled with digestive enzymes and consume food.  Additionally, one of the most popular beneficial bugs for plants.

Eggs are laid in plant material and hatch in approximately 3 to 5 days. Nymphs require at least 20 days to progress through becoming adults.  And, adults live for approximately 35 days. These small insects can bite humans, with surprising pain for such a small insect. However, they do not feed on human blood or inject venom or saliva. In some people, the bite swells up, in others there is no reaction.

Minute Pirate Bug
Minute Pirate Bug: By Photo by Jack Dykinga (uploaded by --gian_d 22:03, 15 March 2008 (UTC)) - United States Department of Agriculture http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/graphics/photos/apr06/k7549-7.htmImage Number K7549-7 (high-resolution version), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3716318

Ground Beetles

Ground beetles comprise one of the largest, most common beetle groups in North America. Thousands of species are found throughout the United States. Adult ground beetles spend most of their time at ground level, feeding on seeds and insects. Their larvae feed on insects in soil. Ground beetles don’t damage lawn grasses or garden plants.  Often seen beneath mulch, under wood and cement blocks, and a multitude of places.  Eating any insect, they sometimes become a nuisance in the home.

Common Beetles
Common Beetles: Beneficial bugs for Plants

Syrphid/Hover Fly

Hover Fly or Syrphid Fly, sometimes called flower flies.  As their common name suggests, they often are seen hovering or nectaring at flowers.  Also, another popular beneficial bug for plants.  The adults feed mainly on nectar and pollen.  Together with larvae (maggots) eating decaying plant and animal matter.  Likewise, in the soil, ponds, and streams. Larvae prey on aphids, thrips, and other plant-sucking insects.

Hoverflies are important pollinators of flowering plants worldwide.  Syrphid flies are frequent flower visitors to a wide range of wild plants.  As well as agricultural crops.  And are considered the second-most important group of pollinators.  That is to say, after wild bees.  Bees are thought to be able to carry greater volumes of pollen.  However, flies may be able to compensate for this by making greater numbers of flower visits.

Sryphid or Hover Fly
Sryphid or Hover Fly: By Thomas Bresson - Syrphidae sp.Uploaded by ComputerHotline, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7254726

Tachinid Fly

Tachinid Flies are dull colored.  Moreover, resembling house flies.  However, distinguished by orange colored eyes.  Parasites of caterpillars (corn earworm, imported cabbage worm, cabbage loopers, cutworms, army worms), stink bugs, squash bug nymphs, beetle and fly larvae, some true bugs, adult beetles.  As a matter of fact, making them one of the most popular beneficial bugs for plants.  Its’ white eggs are deposited on foliage. Or on the body of the host. Larvae are internal parasites, feeding within the body of the host.  Coupled with, sucking its body fluids to the point the pest dies.

Tachinid larvae are parasitoids (developing inside a living host, ultimately killing it).  Tachinid larvae feed on the host tissues.  Identically, injecting into the host.  Or penetrating from outside.

By Sukanta.daswiki - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57888649

Trichogramma Wasp

Minute parasitic wasp.   As beneficial insects for gardens, it’s best known for wide use controlling Coddling Moth, Corn Earworm, Spruce Bud worm.  Together with fir forest pests (mainly moths).  To locate host eggs, adult females use chemical and visual signals.  Such as egg shape and colour.  Females know before parasitizing other eggs, by tapping on its’ surface.  Also, females use antennal drumming.  Determing the size and quality of the target egg.  Therefore, knowing the number of eggs to insert.  A single female can parasitize up to 10 host eggs a day. 

Trichogramma Wasp: By Shih YT, Ko CC, Pan KT, Lin SC, Polaszek A - Shih YT, Ko CC, Pan KT, Lin SC, Polaszek A (2013) Hydrophylita (Lutzimicron) emporos Shih & Polaszek (Hymenoptera: Trichogrammatidae) from Taiwan, Parasitising Eggs, and Phoretic on Adults, of the Damselfly Psolodesmus mandarinus mandarinus (Zygoptera: Calopterygidae). PLoS ONE 8(7): e69331. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0069331, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27421511

Preying Mantis

Relatives of mantises are the termites and cockroaches. As beneficial bugs for plants, Mantises are ambush predators.  Together with the worlds’ most deadliest predatory insect. They are aggressive towards prey.  But not humans.  The praying mantis is an ambush hunter.  Sitting very still, they blend in with surroundings.  Then it waits patiently for an unwary insect to come near.  Consequently, it  snatches the unsuspecting victim.  Some much larger than itself.  Equally, living for about a year.  And, in cooler climates, adults lay eggs (protected by their hard shells) in autumn.  Then die.  Hatching again in spring.

Gardeners may encourage mantises for controlling insect pests.  However, mantises do not have key attributes of biological pest control.  In other words, not widely used as a beneficial insect for gardens.  They do not specialize in a single pest insect.  And do not multiply rapidly to increases in prey species.  But are general predators.  They eat whatever they can catch.  Including harmful and beneficial insects.  Therefore, have “negligible value” in biological control for beneficial insects in the garden..

Preying Mantis: By Shiva shankar - Taken at karkala, Karnataka as a praying mantis, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=244227

Dragonfly

Dragonflies live on every continent except Antarctica.  Adults, as well as larvae, hunt.  And eat insects.

To attract Dragonflies, you’ll need water.  Like a water fountain or pond.  Likewise, tall, bright flowers or weeds.

Adult dragonflies hunt on the wing.  Uniquely, using their exceptionally acute eyesight.  And strong, agile flight.  Almost exclusively carnivorous, eating a wide variety of insects.  Likewise, small midges and mosquitoes, butterflies, moths, damselflies.  Also, smaller dragonflies.   Dragonflies consume prey fifth of its body weight per day.  As well as being some of the insect world’s most efficient hunters. As a matter of fact, catching up to 95% of their prey.

Larvae are voracious predators.  Equally eating most living things smaller than they are. Their staple diet is blood worms and other insect larvae.  But they also feed on tadpoles and small fish.  A few species are likely to leave water.  Nymphs sometimes hunt small arthropods on the ground at night.

Dragon Fly Blue Eyed Darner
Blue Eyed Darner Dragon Fly: By "Mike" Michael L. Baird, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4759690

Ground Beetle

Ground beetles comprise one of the largest, most common beetle groups in North America. Thousands of species, including both native and nonnative ground beetles, are found throughout the United States. As their common name implies, adult ground beetles spend most of their time at ground level, feeding on seeds and insects. Their larvae feed on insects in soil. Ground beetles don’t damage lawn grasses or garden plants, however, they become nuisances during mid to late summer when they flock around foundations and invade homes.

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Summary

In conclusion, most beneficial insects in the garden do not feed on or harm plants.  Not to mention, taking huge populations of beneficial insects in the garden.  Adequately controlling harmful pests. Therefore, beneficial insects in the garden (predatory insects) completely prevent or greatly limit pest problems. It’s important to recognize these beneficial bugs for plants. Therefore, appreciated and conserved.

Use a wide variety of attractive plants to keep and attract beneficial bugs for plants.  Tolerate minor pest infestations. The beneficial insects in the garden will get the memo before you do. Of course, providing another food source for the beneficials.   And help keep them in your yard.  Plants that flower at different times can provide beneficial bugs for plants with nectar, pollen.  And their harmful insect diet when needed.

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