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Beneficial Insects

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Heredity is a splendid phenomenon that relieves us
of responsibility for our shortcomings. -Doug Larson

Beneficial insects keep the balance in nature. Throughout this website you will see mention of the many different types, what they eat, what attracts them etc. Take a look at the the various insect entries on the natural insect control page and on the companion planting page for specific types and what they do for us. Most of us know what ladybugs, lacewings and praying mantids are. Here we will touch on some of the beneficials we are less familiar with so we can identify our allies!

 

Assassin Bugs (Family Reduviidae)
  • There are several species of assassin bugs and all are beneficial. They have a black or brown body with a length of 3/8 - 2 inches. They have a thin head, bulging eyes and fly slowly. What makes them unique and an effective assassin is their legs that have razor sharp spines. The front legs are very strong and fast for catching and holding prey. Once they latch onto the victim they pierce it's body with their beak injecting a venom which paralyzes the prey. The prey consists of   aphids, caterpillars, Colorado potato beetles, Japanese beetles, leafhoppers and Mexican bean beetles. A word of caution: don't handle them as they will bite you.
  • Attractant plants: Alfalfa, carrot family plants, goldenrod and oleander.

Bigeyed Bugs

  • Like it's name states it has extremely large eyes. The main body is grayish in color. The head and thorax have small black spots. There are several generations per year. Adults overwinter in garden trash. They feed on aphids, chinch bugs, leafhoppers and spider mites.
  • Attractant plants: Alfalfa, carrot family plants, goldenrod and oleander.

Ground Beetles

  • Here again there are many different species of ground beetles. The majority being 1 inch in length. Bodies are black to purple in coloring. They have long legs and the bodies have a hard shell. They are nocturnal and dine on many insects including: eggs or larvae of aphids, flea beetles, ants, nematodes, thrips, gypsy moths and mites! Along with these they also like caterpillars, slugs and grubs. They are a gardeners pal. They are very active critters and have been known to pursue their meal tickets up trees! Even better is they will go after the armyworms and tent caterpillars that infest trees. The adults overwinter in the ground and produce one offspring per year.
  • Attractant plants: They like shade and low growing plants. Any groundcovers are preferred as are camphorweed, squash and evening primrose.

Hover Flies: It's a bee, it's a wasp, no it's a hoverfly!

  • A hover fly is a beneficial insect to start with. It also is a rather generic name for a large group of flies which is in the family Syrphidae. They have similar coloring and antics compared to bees and are often mistaken for some sort of bee or small wasp. They are 1/4-3/4 inch in length with large eyes that take up most of their head area. Many have distinct black and yellow patterns. We often see the adults hovering over flowers thus the name hover flies. Of interest is they can fly sideways. They won't bite or sting you. They are most curious and like to hang around to check us out when we are picking flowers or tending to the garden. It is the larvae that are the predator. The adults drink nectar and is an important pollinator. We will touch on the more common hoverflies here.
  • American Hover Fly (metasyrphus americana) : This is one of the most common and a gentle little HFly.jpg (2768 bytes)critter.  It has clear wings, is 3/8 inch long, black to shiny green body with 3 yellow crossbands that don't quite reach the stomach area. The face is yellow with a black stripe and black cheek areas. We find this guy on flowers and foliage of all kinds. They lay long white solitary eggs on aphid infested plants. The larvae are odd looking light gray sluggish type creatures and they consume aphids, mealybugs, leafhoppers, thrips and scale larvae. They can eat an aphid a minute! The larvae lifts it's victim in the air with fanglike hooks and sucks the life juice out of it. A most beneficial helper!
  • Toxomerus Hover Flies (toxomerus spp.): Commonly known as "flower flies." They are 1/4-1/2 inch long with a black body, yellow face, belly has broken yellow bands and the thorax has yellow side stripes. This hover fly also has clear wings but the legs are a yellowish brown. The eggs are dusty white and laid singly on plants usually near aphid colonies. They reach adult stage in summer. The larvae can rival in importance ladybugs in controlling aphids.SLaceVine.jpg (5070 bytes)
  • Attractant plants: Sweet allysum, baby blue eyes, morning glory, cosmos, coreopsis, oleander, candytuft and white yarrow. Watch out white yarrow is invasive. We have found that hover flies just love the flowers of the Silver Lace Vine (Polygonum aubertii). If you have room in a sunny spot this gorgeous vine is a rapid grower spreading to 40-60 feet wide. Once established it is drought tolerant.

Soldier beetles

  • Adults are 1/2 inch in length and look similar to fireflies but without the glow. They have a black body with white thorax and head. They hibernate in the ground as larvae through the winter and have one maybe two offspring during the season. Adults lay the eggs in clusters in the soil. These garden soldiers wage war on grasshopper eggs, caterpillars, cucumber, flea and other small beetles and spider mites. Of interest is the larvae like to eat bugs that dwell under a tree's bark. Very helpful indeed!
  • Attractant plants: Hydrangea, milkweed and goldenrod.

Tachinid Flies

  • Tachinid flies look a lot like houseflies. However it is a bigger fly being up to 1/2 long and has a grayish brown body. The larva is yellow. Females lay their tiny white eggs on or near a host like caterpillars, corn borers, cutworms, sawflies, grasshoppers and armyworms. One survival mechanism is the female can literally glue it's eggs to the host. One female can lay up to 6,000 eggs. They can go hrough a complete lifecycle in 3 weeks meaning an abundance of gareden allies all season. The larva, which is gray to white, then enter the host, feeding off of them, parasitizing them to death. When done feeding the larvae drop to the ground, pupate and emerge as adults in June to September. The tachinid fly is a very important beneficial insect.

Here are recipes you can make at home to attract the good guys to your garden. This mix is enjoyed by adult lacewings, ladybugs, parasitic wasps and others.

  • Good Bug Chow
    Mix all the following ingredients together in a glass or plastic container:
    2/3 cup of warm water
    4 tablespoons of brewer's yeast
    2 teaspoons of honey
    1/2 cup of sugar


    To use: Take 2 tablespoons of the mix and dilute it in 1 quart of lukewarm water. Use this solution to spray on plants in the spring and early part of summer. Remember don't spray plants when temperatures are over 80F. Store the mixture in a sealed container in the refrigerator so it won't go rancid. It will keep for 7-10 days. The sugar in it is actually good for your plants.
  • Sugar-Water Spray
    Mix together very thoroughly these ingredients:
    32 ounces of warm water
    5 ounces of white sugar

    Apply as needed to your plants when aphids and other soft bodied are a nuisance.
    Research done at Utah State University indicates that spraying this sugar-water solution in the center of an alfalfa field increased the ladybug population in one to two days by 200% to 1300%.

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Update: 02/24/15

 

 

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