Beneficial Insects

Beneficial insects are predatory insects that humans find helpful because they attack bugs that we consider pests. Using natural predators to control pests that damage our flowers, fruits, or vegetables is a viable alternative to spraying pesticides, and is an increasingly popular method of pest control for those wishing to live an organic lifestyle.

In an undisturbed ecosystem, insects, plants, and other living organisms tend to live together in a symbiotic relationship. However, in an area manipulated by humans such as a garden or flowerbed, the natural relationships do not exist and pest bugs can get out of control. To combat the destruction, the introduction of a natural predator can keep pests to a minimum.

Beneficial insects can control garden pests organically, which is an important consideration when growing food for consumption or when planting a garden that will be frequented by children, pets, and wildlife. While not as effective as many chemical pesticides, the use of beneficial insects comes without the worry of residue and chemical run off.

Using chemicals will usually kill off pests, but these chemicals have the unwanted side effect of killing off many helpful insects, as well. Beneficial insects tend to limit themselves to specific prey, making it easy to target the pest while allowing other helpful garden bugs to proliferate, restoring a more natural balance.

Long-term use of chemical pesticides has created new generations of bugs that are resistant to the chemicals. To continue to control these resistant insects, increasing amounts of pesticides are needed or new chemical combinations must be created. When first introduced, chemical insecticides were effective at controlling many pests, but there are now over 500 species of insects that are resistant to traditional pesticides.

Many beneficial insects like ladybugs, praying mantids, and lacewings can be purchased by home gardeners and placed in the garden to control pests. Once these good bugs are added back to the backyard ecosystem, and chemicals are discontinued, other, less common beneficial insects may have a resurgence in population.

With increased use by home gardeners, the price of buying beneficial insects has gone down, but it can still add up fast. Additionally, not all beneficial insect are available for purchase. Luckily, with patience, many beneficial insects can be attracted to the home garden by following certain gardening practices. For example, adding solar powered lights in the garden will attract many beneficial beetle species. A shallow dish with water and a good ground cover will provide a habitat for the beetles, allowing them to proliferate and get to work ridding the garden of pests.

Many plants also attract beneficial insects. For example, plants in the Umbelliferae family such as dill, carrots, and parsley as well as plants with multiple heads of composite flowers like yarrow are attractive to parasitic wasps, lacewings, ladybugs, and robber flies. Lacewings need shady out-of-the-way areas to hatch eggs, so having an area like that close to the crop you are trying to protect will allow the beneficial insects to multiply and maintain a helpful population.

The use of beneficial insects will not produce instant results, but with proper use these helpful bugs offer a long term solution that chemical pesticides cannot match.

Lacewings >>

Resources:

Beneficial Insects 101: Putting Beneficial Insects to Work
Integrated Pest Management Program North Carolina State University: Pest Resistance to Pesticides
Grinning Planet: Natural Pest Control
Veggie Gardener: How to Attract Beneficial Insects

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