For the love of bugs!
“It’s a buggy world” is a sentiment that definitely rings true here in the sunshine state. With a conservative estimate of over 12,000 species of insects in Florida, there seems to be six-legged critters everywhere you look. Have you ever stopped to think what your life would be like without insects? I know – most of us wouldn’t mind a world void of cockroaches and mosquitoes and, of course, the dreaded Red Imported Fire Ant! But in all truthfulness, we are extremely lucky to live in an environment rich in invertebrate biomass.
Good Bug/Bad Bug
Insects hide in every bush and crack & crevice, but you’ll be happy to know very few insects are ‘bad bugs’. Statistically speaking, less than one percent (<1%) of insects are harmful. We consider insects harmful if they have a negative impact on humans or the ecosystem – if they destroy crops, structures, vector diseases, or have the ability to deliver a venomous/poisonous bite or sting. Some insects can be considered to be both a good and a bad insect. It’s all just a matter of perspective. For example lady beetles, or ‘ladybugs’, carry the title of being a good and a bad bug. I know- how can a ladybug be a bad bug? Well, here in the southern region of the US, lady beetles are considered beneficial and a great asset to the landscape and garden. They are amazing predators- devouring aphids and mealybugs at lightning speed. However, if you live in the northern states, you may be familiar with the unwelcomed winter-over strategies of one particular species of lady beetle, the Asian Lady Beetle, Harmonia axyridis (Pallas).
They are considered a nuisance as mass numbers of the insect find refuge on the sides of homes seeking protection from the bitter winter cold. Once on the home, they find any opportunity to enter, ending up in wall cavities, attics, or any undisturbed location. They also leave unsightly yellow secretions along with a noxious smell as their personal calling cards.
Everything has a purpose
When it comes to the insects in your landscape –99% of insects are considered good, beneficial, or neutral bugs. Insects play a vital role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem – they are pollinators, predators, detritivores, and decomposers. If not for insects we’d be up to our necks in waste, dead animals and dead plants! They also serve as the food source for many birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptile. Although we many not fully appreciate all six-legged critters, we would have a hard time surviving without them.
A few amazing qualities of insects:
They devour bad bugs:
- One ladybug can eat as many as 5,000 aphids during its lifetime
- A green lacewing larvae can devour 200 or more pests per week
- 75% of flowers and vegetable crops rely on pollination by insects
- Some insects provide us with resources such as honey, silk, and wax
They decompose dead stuff:
- Many insects are decomposers and help break down dead organic material including dead plants material, animal carcasses, discarded food, and mulch. This helps in recycling the valuable nutrients back to the soil.
The best advice on how to help our six-legged friends:
- Learn about the insect in your landscape or garden– Does it really need to be controlled or is it a main food source for beneficial insects? OR is it actually a beneficial insect?
- Learn about insect life stages– insect larvae generally eat more than the adults. Knowing what a lady beetle or lace wing larvae looks like is very important if you want to conserve beneficials in your landscape!
- Remember that all bugs need to eat– The beneficial insects in your yard will not stick around if you kill off their food source (the bad bugs) with pesticides.
When it comes to pesticides:
- Avoid preventative spray applications– you will save money as well as possible exposure to harmful chemicals. Determine if a spray application is necessary only after insects are presents and causing unacceptable damage.
- If you need to treat an infestation, focus on localized spot treats of insect problems – If you treat the entire landscape, it will kill all the insects – the bad and the good.
- Always check for beneficial insects – they do a better job of long term control than most insecticides if given the chance!
- If pesticides are necessary, always choose the least toxic options – Insecticidal soaps, horticultural oils, NEEM oil, and microbials (biological controls) work well against most common landscape pests.
- Only use pesticides when non-chemical pest control options have failed.
Learn more about beneficial insects and biological controls in the UF/IFAS EDIS publication Natural Enemies and Biologicial Control.