Stop and Take Notice of Beneficial Insects
This spring, most garden plants are putting on lots of tender new growth. The lush foliage is like a free lunch to aphids, whiteflies, mealybugs and thrips. Before broad spectrum insecticides are used to control these pests, consider the impact on beneficial insects. Insecticides that don’t measurably harm predatory beneficial insects include insecticidal soaps and all season horticultural oils, which kill soft-bodied insect pests at application. Here are several common beneficial predatory and parasitic insects that help keep the pests at bay.
Assassin Bug Zelus longipes
Assassin bugs are predators of several leaf feeding and sap sucking insects including the fall army worm and the Asian citrus psyllid. They trap their prey by holding onto it with their forelegs and secreting enzymes into the prey to dissolve the interior tissue. Then they ingest the dissolved tissue.
Lady Bug or Lady Beetle
These insects most commonly feed on aphids, most insect eggs, whiteflies, small caterpillars, scale and mealybugs. They provide a measurable benefit to gardens since they are such generalized feeders. The Lady Beetle larva look substantially different from the adult stage.
A different but closely related species of the stink bug, this predator uses its piercing / sucking mouthparts to feed on larval beetles and caterpillars.
The green and brown lacewing is often found around aphid infestations. The larva is the major predator, they make the biggest dent on aphid populations. In addition to aphids, lacewings also feed on scale, mealybugs and several species of insect eggs.
Predatory Gall Midges
This aphid predator is easily overlooked because it is so small, and resembles the flower fly. They also feed on scale, thrips and mites.
Flower Flies (Hover Flies)
Flower Flies actually resemble honeybees or bumblebees. People often run from them! The adult is an important pollinator for many crop species and feeds on nectar and aphid honeydew. This time it’s the larva which is predatory and is a voracious feeder of aphids. Large concentrations of larvae substantially reduce aphid populations in aphid infested gardens and fields.
There are many types of parasitic flies which parasitize a variety of insect pest species. They may inject their eggs into the host, or lay the egg on the surface of their host. Usually they are very small and not noticeable.
Most parasitic wasp species are tiny, fast and hard to notice. The average gardener is not aware of their rather plentiful existence. They are a common killer of grubs, caterpillars, whiteflies and aphids. They either insert their eggs into the organism or lay eggs on the surface of their host.
Big Eyed Bugs and Minute Pirate Bugs
While big eyed bugs and minute pirate bugs are not related, they perform similar functions in gardens and agricultural systems by feeding on chinch bug nymphs, psocids, leafhoppers, aphids, thrips, and mites. They are found in variety of ecosystems and do their job anonymously.