Beneficial Bugs

Gardening Information

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
By Michelle Cook, former Red Butte Garden Greenhouse Coordinator
From the Autumn 2013 Newsletter

“Some big insect flew in and began walking on the table. I don’t know what insect it was, but it was brown, shining, and rich in structures. In the city the big universal chain of insects gets thin, but where there’s a leaf or two it’ll be represented.” ― Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March

Insects are an integral part of any ecosystem, and while they sometimes “bug” us, many are valuable. Even yellow jackets! Insects are valuable because many prey on other insects for food, regulating their populations. Predatory insects can control many insect pests that damage our squash, roses or houseplants. The good news is that several of these predatory or beneficial insects are already in your flowers! Nature is already at work helping you garden.

The bad news is that many beneficial insect populations are too low in numbers to provide immediate, effective control of emerging infestations of non-beneficial insects. To get control of these serious infestations, you can add beneficial insects to your garden. Several releases about a month apart are usually needed.

Purchased beneficial insects often come in little jars and, many can be found at local nurseries. Releasing them is as easy as taking off the lid and sprinkling a few into the most pest infested areas throughout your home or garden. A cool morning is usually the recommended time of dispersal. At Red Butte Garden, we release a wide variety of beneficial insects. Following are a few of our favorites:

Convergent Lady Beetle or ladybug, Hippodamia convergens, is very well known and found naturally throughout much of North America. While adults eat pests, the main workhorse is the larvae. They look like little black and orange alligators and they have voracious appetites.

PROS: Easy and affordable to purchase most of the year, eat a lot of pests of all different kinds, with good perennial plants, like yarrow, long term populations can establish, and they are cute!

CONS: Many released adults will not stay around as they often disperse almost immediately.

Green Lacewings, Chrysoperla sp., are little green-bodied insects that often land on your shoulder or can be seen flitting around your porch light. Their wings are clear and look quite delicate upon close inspection. They are usually purchased as small eggs attached to an index card, and are easy to release.

PROS: Easy to release, available most of the year, larvae eat a variety of pests, adults are pollinators.

CONS: Eggs take 1-2 weeks to hatch and start feeding, some adult dispersal.

Chinese or Praying Mantid, Tenodera sinensis, was originally brought to the U.S. just to eat other insects. It has naturalized into many ecosystems. From egg hatch at ½ inch nymphs, to 3-4 inch adults, mantis are voracious and adept hunters.

PROS: Stay around the release sight, actively search out prey, can be kept over the winter as a pet, nymphs start eating right away.

CONS: Purchased egg sacs can take several weeks to hatch and they eat anything they can catch, including other beneficial insects.

Pirate Bugs, Orius sp. are small black and white bugs. Classified as a true bug, they fold their wings flat on their back forming a triangle at the top of the wings. The black and white pattern on the wing has a similarity to the skull and crossbones on a pirate flag. They are small insects, only about 1/16 of an inch.

PROS: Small, eat many different pests.

CONS: Not available locally, check our suppliers listed below.

Parasitic Wasps, like, Aphidius colemani, provides excellent control in greenhouses and on house plants. This very tiny black wasp feeds exclusively on aphids. We use them extensively.

PROS: Small, effective.

CONS: Not available locally, check our suppliers listed below.

Recommended Suppliers


Rincon-Vitova Insectaries, Inc.

801.585.0556 | 300 WAKARA WAY, SALT LAKE CITY, UT 84108
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