Guardians of the Garden
By: Anni Jack, Adult Education Coordinator | 08/18/2021
Hopefully, after reading the prior blog post, we are now working on suppressing the desire to stomp, squash, and scream when we cross paths with bugs and maybe even looking at welcoming beneficial bugs into our backyards. There are two types of beneficial bugs that step it up beyond pollinating plants, predators and parasitoids. Predators hunt and feed on pests while parasitoids lay eggs on or in prey that the hatched larvae then consume (creepy cool!). Let’s spotlight 5 of these guardians of the garden.
Hover (Syrphid) flies like to mimic bees and wasps, even laying eggs in bees nests. Look for their unique wing venation that sets them apart from their stinging counterpart. Hover flies lay eggs near aphid colonies and the larvae devour the aphids upon hatching. They also hunt for other soft-bodied insects such as thrips and caterpillars. Hover flies don’t require an obvious aphid infestation either – they are an early season predator that can detect low pest numbers. And great news, they can eat hundreds of aphids per month!
Parasitoid wasps may have mind control powers?! Prey can become defensive as if they are a bodyguard to the predator’s larvae (which are consuming them!), among other atypical behavior. Their prey includes aphids, scale, whiteflies, ants, leaf miners, and sawfly larva, as well as the eggs of codling moths, tomato hornworm, cabbage loopers, cabbage worms, and corn borers. Parasitoid bugs can be a pretty fascinating subject to study further!
Predaceous ground beetles are large, often numerous, and always hungry. They can be intimidating in size and mannerisms, especially when they excrete a hot, noxious fluid with a popping sound. Ground beetles’ benefits definitely outweigh the initial fear factor though! They have a long buggy lifespan of 2-4 years and both larvae and adults feed on armyworms, cutworms, grubs, slugs and snails.
Green lacewings are active at night and communicate by vibration. They overwinter in leaf litter (a reason not to be too tidy in your garden clean up). Their larvae, also called aphid lions, have pincers that grab prey and the predators then suck the fluid from their prey. A single lacewing can eat 750 aphids in their lifetime! They don’t stop at aphids, though. Leafhoppers, spider mites, thrips, mealy bugs, psyllids, white flies, small caterpillars, and immature bugs can all be on the green lacewing’s menu.
Minute pirate bugs have a bite you want to avoid (they seem to be attracted to light clothing colors) but my goodness, they are an amazing beneficial predator! They reproduce very quickly, often spanning only 15 days from egg to adulthood. Minute pirate bugs suck body fluids from spider mites, thrips, aphids, white flies, caterpillars, and insect eggs. They are first to appear in spring and eat up to 30 spider mites a day! Welcome them and as you enjoy the growing season and perhaps wear dark-colored clothing.
There we have it… 5 guardians of our gardens who keep pests in check, promote pollination and food production, sometimes make us scream, but certainly are necessary and fascinating at a further glance.
Questions about gardening? Call our Horticulture Helpline at 208-275-8614 or e-mail us firstname.lastname@example.org.