Bugs in your garden are bad, right? Not so fast. Put down that cocktail of toxic chemicals you're tempted to dump on the first creepy crawly you find in your garden. Some of those tiny creatures are actually doing beneficial work. Here are five helpful insects that you not only want to keep alive but encourage.
1. Aphid midge.
These bugs are natural predators of 60 different species of aphids.
These small (2-3 mm) insects are good at what they do. Here's what Cornell University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has to say about them: "Adult midges are very efficient at locating aphid colonies. In one study, (aphid midges)located the one infested plant out of 75. One larva needs a minimum of 7 aphids in order to complete the life cycle, but it may eat as many as 80. In addition, larvae kill more aphids than they consume."
2. Assassin bugs.
Like most assassins, these insects are serious about their work. They kill and feed on other bugs such as bees and flies as well as caterpillars.
There are many different types of assassin bugs such as milkweed assassin bug, ambush bug, and wheel bug, and all are a great benefit to your garden. However, the kissing bug is also an assassin bug but not so helpful because it's parasitic to humans.
3. Big-eyed bugs.
Yes, these small (1/6 inch) bugs have big eyes on their wide heads. But what's most important is that they prey on numerous kinds of insect and mite pests.
The University of California's Pest Management Program warns gardeners not to confuse these beneficial big eyed bugs with Lygaeidae that are from the same family. The bugs you want to encourage have bigger heads and eyes. (Remember: In this case, bigger is better.)
4. Damsel bugs.
These insects look a lot like assassin bugs, and they're just as serious about their killing. Damsel bugs are predators of aphids, moth eggs, and small caterpillars, leafhoppers, small sawfly larvae, mites, tarnished plant bug nymphs, asparagus beetle, and Colorado potato beetle eggs and nymphs. Phew, that's a lot!
According to the University of Wisconsin Madison, "Damsel bugs are more commonly found in field crops such as alfalfa and soybean than in row crops or orchards. Grassy fields tend to have more damsel bugs than do broadleaf weed or weed-free fields. They are also commonly found in home gardens, where they prefer to take shelter in low growing grasses and ground covers."
5. Lady bugs.
Who doesn't love a lady bug with their brilliant red shells and black spots?
But good looks are only one great quality this insect has. According to National Geographic, "Most ladybugs voraciously consume plant-eating insects, such as aphids, and in doing so they help to protect crops. Ladybugs lay hundreds of eggs in the colonies of aphids and other plant-eating pests. When they hatch, the ladybug larvae immediately begin to feed."
6. Praying mantis.
The praying mantis is not a picky eater. This is good news because they'll gobble up nasty bugs that damage your garden. However, their indiscriminate palate causes them to also eat beneficial insects too. If you find them in your garden, try to take note of where they are congregating and what they're munching on to determine if they're helpful or harmful.
photo of lady bug via Shutterstock