Learn to Recognize Local Beneficial Insects

 

By now you’ve been made very aware of the importance of beneficial insects in the garden — both pollinators and predators. You’ve been instructed to encourage the good guys into your garden and celebrate their appearance.  All of which is good and correct.

Except…how can you be sure that the less-than-cuddly-looking-four-legged creatures walking amongst your blossoms are the right ones? After all, heroes aren’t necessarily handsome (although we always assume that they must be). No, your knights-in-shining-armor may have a face only a mother could love — or a gardener.

You might be surprised at how many good guys you don’t recognize. For instance, most people are very familiar with ladybugs and recognize them as part of the cavalry. The Volkswagen-shaped beetles will consume about 50 aphids a day, munching on plant mites and scales while they’re at it.

Yet I wonder how many ladybug children are killed simply because they don’t have Brad Pitt good-looks. If you didn’t shudder when I mentioned the little darlings, then you probably haven’t met them. If you can picture a cross between an alligator and a lobster wearing black and orange/red leather biker pants — only creepier — then you’re on the right track. As far as looks go, ladybug larvae have nothing in common their charming parents. Another example of a less-than-lovely beneficial insect is the Damsel Bug. As the old saying goes; she’s plainer than a mud fence.

So, you can see how important insect recognition can be if only so you don’t squash the very critters that are there to save the day! The best place to start is by learning about the insects local to your area. I like having a bug identification page called Mac’s Field Guide and they’re available for different regions. This large, laminated card has good garden bugs on one side and bad ones on the flip side. The one I have for California has images of the kids next to the adults, too. It also tells you where to look for both good and bad bugs and which plant whets their appetites.

If a particular insect really piques your interest, catch it in a jar. Bring it down to your local nursery or your local Cooperative Extension Office (Master Gardeners)for proper identification. You were probably going down there to see what new vegetable starts they brought in this week anyway.

 

Ladybug facts:

There are over 300 types of Ladybugs just in North America

Ladybugs come in many colors besides red: like pink, yellow, white, orange and black.  See more at: http://www.ladybuglady.com/ladybugweb9.htm#sthash.QnKjNGBh.dpuf

The hard shell covering the adult ladybug protects the fragile wings and is called the elytra. It is so thin you can see through it and is used to make the ladybug look dangerous to predators. They actually secrete a foul tasting, orange fluid from the joints in their legs. Ladybugs will even play dead if threatened.

 

 

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