April is a great time to stop and take a closer look at some of the beneficial insects that live in lawns and gardens. As pests begin to emerge from their winter slumber, so do beneficial insects like ladybugs (lady beetles), green lacewings and mantids. Many gardeners begin planning their season long before they plant their first crops or flowers. Knowing what to watch for during the gardening season when it comes to pest control is important. Beneficial insects and insect parasites play an important role in gardening. They are natural predators to damaging pests like aphids.
One of the most recognized beneficial insects is the lady beetle commonly known as a ladybug. While lady beetles are easily distinguished in their adult stage as a round to oval beetle with brightly colored, often spotted wing casings, larval or immature stages are a lot more likely to be misidentified as a pest as they look completely different than the adult stage. Larvae are soft bodied, elongated in shape and dark in color with exception of orange or yellow flecks. Ladybugs in both the larval and adult stage feed on soft bodied insects like aphids and typically provide rapid control of many insect pest problems during warm weather seasons. Specialized species of lady beetles assist in the control of spider mites as well as others that provide control of scaled insects.
There is however a species of lady beetle that is considered a plant pest and causes damage instead of benefit. The Mexican bean beetle has a similar appearance to other species, but is distinguished by its orange or yellow face. The larval stage of this lady beetle is bright yellow in color and covered in spines. As their name indicates, they are found on bean plants were they cause damage while feeding on the plant’s leaves.
Brightly colored and resembling bees or yellowjacket wasps, syrphid flies are known by a few common names including flower flies or hover flies. These common names come from the adults’ habit of hovering around and feeding on flowers. Syrphid flies are harmless to people. The larval stage of the syrphid fly provides the beneficial insect control for this species. The maggots come in a variety of colors and are tapered in shape. Each larva consumes dozens of small, soft-bodied insects daily. While cooler temperatures tend to inhibit predators like lady beetles, syrphid flies larvae thrive in controlling early season infestations and are important in the control of aphids.
Look a likes to the larvae of syrphid flies that appear in late season belong to a predatory midge. These larvae are typically small and bright orange in color.
Boosting the Beneficial Insect Control in Your Garden
Depending on the type of pest infestation that your garden is experiencing, you may be able to give the beneficial pests a boost with a visit to your local nursery or garden center. Beneficial insects such as lady beetles and even mantids are often sold as over-the-counter pest control. When using pesticides in the presence of beneficial insects within a garden it is best to read labels and apply products that will have minimized effects on the beneficial insects assisting in ridding your garden of pests.