Garden plants attract insect pests by the dozens, from aphids to slugs. But before you reach for an insecticide, take another look at the insects in your planting beds. While the pests are devouring your squash and tomatoes, another wave of garden bugs is coming to the rescue. Beneficial garden bugs prey on the pests gardeners detest, keeping insect populations in check.
1. Green Lacewings.
Most of the beautiful adult lacewings feed on pollen, nectar, and honeydew. Green lacewing larvae, however, are voracious predators. Nicknamed “aphid lions,” the larvae do an impressive job of devouring aphids by the dozens. Larvae hunt for soft-bodied prey, using their curved, pointed mandibles to stab their victims.
2. Lady Beetles.
Everyone loves a ladybug, but gardeners hold them in especially high regard. Lady beetles eat aphids, scale insects, thrips, mealybugs, and mites—all the pests gardeners despise. With lady beetles, you get more bang for your buck, because both the adults and the larvae feed on pests. Lady beetle larvae look like tiny, colorful alligators.
3. Assassin Bugs.
Assassin bugs know how to take care of business. These true bugs use trickery, disguises, or just plain brute force to capture a meal. Many assassin bugs specialize in certain kinds of prey, but as a group, assassins feed on everything from beetles to caterpillars. They’re fun to watch, but be careful handling them because they bite—hard.
4. Praying Mantises.
Contrary to popular belief, it is not illegal to harm a praying mantis. But why would you want to? Praying mantises can handle even the largest pests in the garden. You need a good eye to spot one because their coloration and shape provide them with perfect camouflage among the garden plants. When the nymphs hatch, they’re so hungry they sometimes eat their siblings.
5. Minute Pirate Bugs.
You probably have minute pirate bugs in your garden and don’t even know it. These plant predators are indeed tiny: Minute pirate bugs usually measure a mere 1/16 inch long, but even at that size, they can put away a good number of aphids, mites, and thrips. Next time you’re in the garden, take a magnifying glass and search for them. Adults have black bodies with a white chevron pattern on their backs.
6. Ground Beetles.
Don’t overlook the ground beetles in your garden. Lift a stepping stone, and you might see one skittering away. The dark-colored adults often have a metallic sheen, but it’s really the larvae that do the dirty work of pest control. Ground beetle larvae develop in the soil, and prey on slugs, root maggots, cutworms, and other pests on the ground. A few species will venture up a plant stem and hunt for caterpillars or insect eggs.