By Julie Martens Forney
Every day in the garden you encounter bugs—they’re pretty much everywhere. In the midst of all the buzzing and crawling, it can be tough to know which are good insects and which deserve a firm foot. Beneficial insects lend a helping hand, tackling tasks such as pollinating crops and hunting pests.
You probably recognize a bumblebee as a good insect. It’s a strong pollinator. Each bee visits the same plants repeatedly, helping spread pollen among the blooms. Meet a few other beneficial insects that definitely deserve a pass when you encounter them.
This beneficial insect is tough to miss, with its big size (up to 1.5 inches) and slow movement. The wheel on its back is thought to warn predators against its terrible taste. The wheel bug belongs to a group of beneficial insects called assassin bugs, which seek out and kill soft-bodied insects such as aphids, caterpillars, and grubs. You can see the stabbing mouthpart on this beauty. It’s best to avoid handling wheel bugs. They can deliver a piercing bite, which is said to feel like a hornet sting times 10 over and takes weeks or months to heal.
Resembling a bee, this insect goes by a variety of names: flower fly, hover fly, and bee fly. It’s a type of syrphid fly, which is another great pollinator. Its coloring mimics a stinging insect, which is this little guy’s way of scaring off predators. The flower fly also helps with garden pest control. Its larvae feast on soft-bodied insects, including aphids, thrips, and scale. You can easily identify flower flies by their hovering flight and one pair of wings. (Bees have two pairs.)
The ladybug, or ladybird beetle, is one of nature’s friendliest insects, beloved by children everywhere. It’s definitely a gardener’s friend–in its lifetime a single ladybug can eat up to 5,000 aphids! The larval form of a ladybug resembles an alligator and can be somewhat scary to encounter. It scouts leaves, looking for soft-bodied insects it can devour.
As you tend your garden this summer, keep an eye out for beneficial insects. If you discover insects you don’t recognize, adopt a response of “ID first.” That way you can avoid accidentally killing an insect that’s in fact a garden helper.
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