Beneficial Insects for Your Garden: Bugs to Help Control Pests

Ladybugs aren't the only ones that can help control pests in your garden. Learn more about other beneficial insects, including green lacewings, trichogramma wasps, and ambush bugs (among others), as well as what to plant to attract them.

| April/May 1992

  • Green Lacewing
    A delicate insect, the green lacewing feeding on pollen or nectar gives no clue as to the voracious appetite of its larvae, which make one of the best garden predators in existence for aphids, spider mites, mealybugs, leafhoppers, thrips, or even corn earworm and other caterpillar eggs.
    STEPHEN DALTON
  • 131-022-i1
    A Nematode worm investigating the back of a meal mite. Some 80,000 species of Nematode are known.
    PHOTO: PHOTO RESEARCHERS/DR. JEREMY BURGESS
  • 131-022-i6
    Ladybugs, who may be responsible for the entire concept of biological pest control.
    PHOTO RESEARCHERS/J. H. ROBINSON
  • Lacewing Larva, Camouflaged
    Green lacewing larva, disguised in plant debris camouflage.
    PHOTO RESEARCHERS/J. H. ROBINSON
  • Lacewing Larva, Exposed
    When the plant debris camouflage is removed, the green lacewing larva's bizarre appearance is revealed.
    PHOTO RESEARCHERS/J. H. ROBINSON
  • 131-022-i5
    Tiger beetles can grow up to an inch long and feed on many other kinds of insects and spiders.
    RICHARD PARKER
  • 131-022-i7
    A Tachnid fly resting on a summer squash flower. They are among the most important North American pest-control parasite.
    PHOTO RESEARCHERS/HARRY ROGERS
  • 131-022-i8
    A wasp eating cabbage-moth larva. Their size (often over one inch long) and their bright, contrasting markings make them hard to miss.
    SUPERSTOCK/TOM MURPHY

  • Green Lacewing
  • 131-022-i1
  • 131-022-i6
  • Lacewing Larva, Camouflaged
  • Lacewing Larva, Exposed
  • 131-022-i5
  • 131-022-i7
  • 131-022-i8

Look around any natural garden—that is, any ecosystem undisturbed by human intervention—and what do you see? Are all the plants devastated by insect infestations? Are gophers the only surviving life forms? With the exception of climatic extremes such as deserts and arctic glaciers, wouldn't you expect to see a variety of life, from plants to insects, birds, and animals, coexisting?

The answers are, "no," "of course not," and "well, I certainly hope so!" Nature works in harmony with itself. The food chain follows a hierarchy: plants, plant eaters, and finally, plant-eater eaters. If one category is troubled, the whole system is affected. Not enough plants and the plant eaters starve; not enough plant eaters and the plant-eater eaters go hungry; not enough plant-eater eaters and the population of plant eaters expands until they eat up all the plants. A simple, yet easily disrupted balance.

So it is in your garden. By now you may have come to realize that you are not the only plant eater involved. There are plenty of others eager to get their share. So how does nature handle the problem? Of course—more plant-eater eaters!

Unless your garden has been saturated with poisonous chemicals, chances are that at any given moment scores of plant-eater eaters, or predators, are at work. Cats are catching mice, birds are devouring caterpillars, ladybugs are gobbling up aphids, and lacewings are munching on a variety of bugs. One of the best things you can do for your garden is to encourage this natural system. You can even help nature along by introducing beneficials into the garden.



But how to achieve this success, and what makes it a victory rather than a crushing defeat? A garden full of bugs is a boon instead of a bust when many of those bugs are beneficial insects—those that attack the bad-guy bugs that attack our crops. How you can achieve such a lofty goal is at once very simple and very demanding.

Entice Beneficial Insects to Your Garden

The number-one demand of beneficial insects is that you use no poisonous chemicals. Pesticide use is easily the primary reason that there are no more beneficial bugs at work today. Other requirements of beneficial bugs vary with the individual species, whether they be predator or parasite, but some general principles benefit all.





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