What are beneficial bugs and critters?
Why do we want them in the garden?
Types of "beneficials"
|Ladybugs eat aphids, mites, scale insects, mealybugs.
|Praying mantis eat anything they can physically overpower, including other mantids.
|Dragonflies/damselflies eat mosquitoes and other flying insects, and their
aquatic larvae eat mosquito larvae.
|Many ground beetles are predatory and eat snails and slugs.
|Fireflies are a type of ground beetle and their larvae eat snails and slugs.
|Assassin bugs eat a variety of bugs, including ants, as you can see here.
|Spiders -- I know, eww, for some people -- are beneficial.
They eat just about anything. This "garden spider" is one
that I'm always happy to see.
|Frogs and toads eat flies, roaches, grasshoppers, moths, and many other pests.
|I love seeing lizards in my garden because I know they're eating pests.
|Snakes are not everyone's favorite garden dweller, but they can be beneficial.
Larger snakes eat mammals, but many small snakes are harmless and have a
big appetite for insects. Pictured is a rat snake.
|Many types of birds, like this baby bluejays, eat bugs, like beetles,
grasshoppers, and caterpillars.
|Many bats, like this tiny Mexican free-tailed bat, whom I lovingly
named Edward, eat mosquitoes by the thousands.
|Austin is home to one of the largest urban bat colonies in the world.
A million and a half bats -- literally 1.5 million of them --
emerge from the Congress Avenue bridge in downtown Austin each night.
They eat between 5 and 10 TONS -- that's 10,000-20,000 lbs --
of insects nightly. Read more about them here.
Braconid wasps are an example of a parasitoid wasp that doesn't sting humans.
Beneficial nematodes - I'm not sure how to categorize these, but they're technically a parasite, so I'm going to put them here.
Beneficial nematodes are a soil dwelling microscopic roundworm that uses biological warfare to kill soil dwelling insects, like fire ants and grubs. The short version: they crawl into their host insect through any orifice they can find, and then they give the insects a bad case of food poisoning and eat them after they die. You can read all the gory details here.
Decomposers or recyclers
It's estimated that pollinators have a $20 BILLION impact on United States agriculture each year.
Some bats fall into the pollinator category, although I don't have any pictures of these bats. Bats pollinate many things, including cocoa and agave. If you like chocolate or tequila, now you can have a new appreciation for bats. You can read more about pollinating bats here.
|Most experts say that honeybees are responsible for pollinating
approximately one-third of our food.
|Solitary bees get very little credit compared to honeybees, but they
pollinate 80% of flowering plants worldwide. (source).
Here's an article I wrote about Solitary Bees.
|Here's one of my many garden friends.
|Butterflies, like this swallowtail, lay their eggs on a "host plant".
The caterpillar hatches from the egg, eats the host plant and then
pupates and becomes a butterfly, repeating the cycle.
|Most moths are also great pollinators, although not this luna moth.
Luna moths don't actually have mouths!
You can read more about them on my Instagram.
Photo credit: my friend George Bohnsack
|Hummingbirds are pollinators, but they also eat small bugs, like gnats.
Photo credit: my friend Rebecca Corbin
|This little gal got stuck in the greenhouse at work.
She perked up after a drink and eventually flew away.
How to attract "beneficials"
Adopt an "integrated pest management" approach to gardening
- Leaf litter and ground cover plants
- Overturned/partially buried pots
- Compost pile
- Bird houses
- Keep flower beds mulched 2-3" deep with a wood based mulch and replenish 1-2 times per year. Mulch provides shelter for beneficials, prevents weeks, reduces evaporative water loss, and insulates plant roots against heat and cold.
- Leave a well-drained, sunny portion of your flower bed free of mulch and vegetation for ground nesting solitary bees, and provide deadwood for deadwood nesting bees.
You can learn more about solitary bees here on my blog.
- Buy or build a beneficial bug house
- Hang a bat house
|Beneficial bug house I built for a workshop.
- A birdbath filled with water and marbles or stones provides a safe place for many types of pollinators to get a drink without drowning.
- If you don't have a birdbath, you can do the same thing with a plant saucer on the ground.
- Many beneficial critters eat nectar and pollen, but their diets vary greatly from species to species, so plant a variety of flowers that bloom in different seasons.
- Favorite pollinator plants are:
- Carrot family: dill, parsley, fennel
- Brassica family: sweet alyssum, stock, nasturtium, candytuft
- Daisy family: sunflowers, coneflowers, mums, asters, yarrow, daisies, goldenrod
- Mint family: salvia, basil, catnip, rosemary, thyme, lantana, agastache
- Hang a hummingbird feeder
- Make your own nectar with 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. Keep it dye free.
Purchase beneficial insects
- Most pollinators, like butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds are easy to attract if you plant their favorite flowers, but predators, like ladybugs, praying mantis, and beneficial nematodes are harder to attract specifically. You can give your garden predator population a head start by purchasing them through a local nursery or online.