Predatory Insects: Saviors of the Garden

Predatory Insects: Saviors of the Garden

As gardeners, it is easy to become obsessed with keeping our landscapes as perfect as possible. In Florida, this can become a real challenge when warm weather rolls around and brings out swarms of bugs. The gut reaction of many people is to try to mitigate this infestation with chemical controls. These controls may help in the short term, but all chemicals will wear off eventually and stop providing protection for your plants. Many chemicals are also non-selective in the bugs that they kill, and will hurt populations of beneficial insects.


Instead of using pesticides as a go-to for pest control in the garden, it can be quite effective to let natural predatory bugs do the pest control for you! There are a bunch of predatory bugs that will proliferate in your garden if conditions are good for them. Simply having diversity in your landscape and providing good habitats for these critters is a great way to start.


Some of the best predatory bugs to have in the garden include: spiders, parasitic wasps, assassin beetles, ladybugs, lacewings and praying mantids. Many of these good bugs will show up in your garden on their own if there is food for them to eat. Next time you notice aphids on your plant, look around the plant and you will almost always find a ladybug scoping out the feast! But if you think you would like to bring more of these pest-eating powerhouses to your landscape, there are some that you can introduce into the garden yourself.

Ladybugs

These are some of the most prevalent (and cutest!) beneficial predatory bugs in the garden. The adults and larvae eat a plethora of pests, including mealybugs, aphids and scale insects. The larvae can look a little foreign and you may be concerned if you see them in the garden and are unfamiliar with them, but make sure you leave these little guys alone! They are capable of eating hundreds of aphids and other small pests.

Image: Ladybug larva surrounded by its favorite food - aphids!

Lacewings

Lacewings are a lesser-known beneficial predator. These beautiful adult insects are known for their lace-like wings, and are a rarer sight in the garden than other predators.

The larval stage is seen most often, but people are often unaware of what they are looking at. Often known as “junk bugs”, the lacewing larvae will disguise themselves using bits of debris - looking quite comical as they meander about. The larvae eat mealybugs, aphids and other pests, and sometimes will throw the hollowed-out exoskeletons of their dinner on their back as a clever way to hide in plain sight of their prey.

Praying Mantids

They may be elusive in the garden due to their exceptional camouflage skills, but mantises are one of the best predatory insects to have in the home garden. As babies, mantids will eat small insects like flies and aphids. As they mature and get to their full size, they will eat much larger prey. The mantis diet is limited only to what they can catch. Their diet includes, but is not limited to, cockroaches, stink bugs, grasshoppers, crickets and mole crickets. While mantises will eat lots and lots of these bad bugs, keep in mind that they are not selective and may also eat moths, butterflies, ladybugs, bees, spiders and even small lizards and frogs. While it may be upsetting to see these beneficials meet their maker, it is all a part of the natural circle of life - a bug’s gotta eat! The good they do in the end generally outweighs the potential bad. Even though there are a number of introduced species of mantises in our state, they are not considered invasive and can help provide wonderful pest control in the garden.

This article was written by Kaelin Riché.
(Tallahassee Nurseries Garden Showplace Manager, FNGLA Florida Certified Horticulture Professional)

 


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