Three Beneficial Insects and How to Attract Them to Your Yard
Let Spiders Help Keep Your Yard Free of Pests
But, Which Insects Are Beneficial?
Wouldn't it be nice if chemical pesticides only wiped out the bad bugs in your yard? If that were the case, most experts might not be hesitant about recommending them from time to time. But, the sad truth is that, when used, they will also obliterate the beneficial insects that allow you to sustain a great lawn or garden. These beneficial insects are the natural predators of the garden pests that cause many of us to have some pretty miserable days in the garden.
Some people, however, are confused about which ones are beneficial and which ones are the pests. So, this article is going to introduce you to several that you don't want to get rid of because they are out there working for you! In this article, I am going to show you ways to attract three beneficial insects to your yard -- spiders, praying mantises, and ladybugs.
“She asks me to kill the spider.
Instead, I get the most
peaceful weapons I can find.
I take a cup and a napkin.
I catch the spider, put it outside
and allow it to walk away.
If I am ever caught in the wrong place
at the wrong time, just being alive
and not bothering anyone,
I hope I am greeted
with the same kind
of mercy."— Rudy Francisco, Poet
Most Spiders Are Harmless to Humans
Forget all the scary stuff you've read in books and seen in movies about spiders. Yes, they have lots of eyes and hairy legs, but most of them are harmless to us. Thanks to the many great photographers with extreme close-up lenses we are able to see them up close and they are definitely a scary sight. Those photographs can make even the tiniest spider look like a creature out of a science fiction movie.
But in your yard, spiders are your friends (remember, I'm not talking about black widows or brown recluses; you'll want to stay away from them). Most of the approximately 4,000 species of spiders in the United States are just looking for an insect to eat. The ones they favor include aphids, thrips, caterpillars, cucumber beetles, flies, leafhoppers, and grasshoppers.
Spiders will do their best to keep the populations of your garden pests to a minimum and they begin their work as soon as the insects begin appearing.
How to Attract Spiders
It's easy to attract spiders if you are a gardener who loves flowers and vegetables. If you have plenty of insects around your yard, the spiders will come. Leave the pest control to spiders and avoid spraying dangerous chemicals that can contaminate soil, water, turf, and other vegetation, and be toxic to birds, fish, beneficial insects, and non-target plants.
The Praying Mantis: What a Face!Click thumbnail to view full-size
Praying Mantis: A Voracious Appetite
The praying mantis gets its name for the way their front legs are bent in a “praying” motion but luckily for us, it has a voracious appetite and is only praying for an unsuspecting garden pest to get close enough to devour. It will eat aphids, leafhoppers, mosquitoes, caterpillars and other soft-bodied insects when young, then later eat larger insects, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, and many other pests.
A mantis will blend in very well with its environment, making it easy to stalk and kill all kinds of insects. The only downsides I have found are that they will also kill hummingbirds (so if you see one close to a hummingbird feeder you should relocate him to another part of your yard), and they don't discriminate; they will eat many beneficial insects as well. With that being said, however, I still love having praying mantises in my yard, having found them to be simply fascinating insects.
A praying mantis can kill prey that is three times its size, including snakes, mice or small turtles but if you handle them properly, they won't harm you.
How to Attract Praying Mantises
Rose and raspberry plants are very attractive to the praying mantis but they also look for tall grasses and shrubs, which provide them the shelter they need from their own predators, frogs, bats, monkeys, larger birds, spiders, and snakes. Praying mantises will also prey on each other.
Note: Unless you are attracting them because they are fun to watch, I don't recommend attracting praying mantises because they practice a non-discrimination policy and will eat ladybugs and other beneficial insects as well as other praying mantises.
Ladybug Stages: Recognize Them AllClick thumbnail to view full-size
Ladybugs: The Most Popular Pest Control
What's not to love about ladybugs in your yard? Both the larvae and adult ladybugs eat small insects, consuming approximately 40-50 aphids an hour. They will also eat beetle grubs, scales, spider mites, and many other soft-bodied insects. And, they do all of this without harming your yard or plants in any way.
Many people are yet to recognize the ladybug in the larvae stage because they look nothing like ladybugs. Instead, they resemble black, orange-spotted caterpillars or grubs with prickly-looking spines sticking up. When you see one, don't get rid of it because it will soon turn into the most widely-recognized pest-control insect around.
Another thing to avoid is the destruction of any ladybug eggs you might see. The eggs are yellow and laid in groups of about 15-30 on the underside of leaves so they are protected from predators and the weather. The photographs above show the four stages of a ladybug's life cycle. Learn to recognize all of them so you don't destroy them by mistake.
How to Attract Ladybugs
You can try to attract ladybugs by building a ladybug feeder but the easiest way is to buy them, either online or at a plant nursery. If you buy them, don't try and release them too early in the season because they will either fly away or starve.
If you buy them online you can store them in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. Release them late in the evening during the dew period and if there is no dew, spray your garden before you release them. Instead of tossing them into the air, place them gently on the ground at the base of the plants you are trying to protect. They will usually climb up the nearest plant and begin searching for food.
See a Ladybug in Action!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Mike and Dorothy McKenney