The weather is warming, albeit slowly, which means the insects are hatching and coming out from winter hibernation. We all hate it when the mosquitoes come, but there are so many other good guys out there that it serves us well to encourage them in the garden for balance.
It’s so important to a balanced garden to correctly identify insects. I know many gardeners who assume that any bug is a bad bug, and immediately begin spraying. Using pesticides kills many beneficial insects in the process. By recognizing and encouraging beneficial insects to reside in your garden, you will have a healthier garden that actually takes less work.
It takes a little work to learn to identify the good guys, but once you do recognize them you’ll get a smile every time you see one in your garden, knowing it’s helping you take care of your plants.
The best thing you can do if you don’t recognize a bug is to catch it in a small jar where you can observe it carefully and make your identification. Then either get on the internet, get to the library or take the bug to the county Extension office for help.
Here are a few examples of some of the good guys:
Aphid midges are delicate little “mosquito copies” with long legs. The larvae are bright orange, about an eighth of an inch long, and prey on about 60 species of aphids.
Assassin bugs are quite distinct with long narrow heads and curving beaks; these may have elaborately flared crests on their back ends. Some are brightly colored, and the adults and nymphs feed on flies and large caterpillars, especially tomato hornworm.
Praying mantis is a large bug with a distinct profile. It has a long body and short front legs that it holds in what look like prayer hands. These don’t appear often, but when they do, they make short work of all types of pests.
Ground beetles are the long-legged beetles in blue-black or dark brown with a shiny coat that we see darting under rocks and brush during the day. They prey on slugs, cutworms and cabbage root maggots in the soil. Some types also go after Colorado potato beetle larvae, gypsy moth and tent caterpillars.
Lacewings are ethereal pale green or brown flying insects with the large delicate wings. Although the adults don’t eat, the nymphs, resembling little alligators, are voracious feeders on aphids, thrips, mealybugs, small caterpillars and mites.
Rove beetles look similar to earwigs, so don’t be so quick to squash. They have short stubby wings and a long abdomen that can resemble the pincers of the earwig. They fold their abdomen up over itself when disturbed. They love aphids, springtails, nematodes, fly eggs and maggots.
Last but not least, ladybugs are familiar to all of us and are well known for their taste for aphids. However, their larvae may not be as familiar. These also look like short alligators, black with red stripes, and they have huge mouths for feasting.
Kate Jerome, a Kenosha writer and teacher, holds a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin and is the former Urban Farm director at Gateway Technical College. She is the owner of the consulting business Kate Jerome’s Garden to Kitchen. Her website is www.kjerome.com.