Bugs, like anything else in this world, can be helpful or harmful to us. Most people feel a bit icky when they think of insects in general, and who can blame them? Our environment is filled with insects — flying through our airspace, nesting on our houseplants, eating our crops, crawling into our beds, and decorating our windshields. The initial picture that one gets when one thinks of the word “insect” is a multi-legged, antennaed, alien nightmare that cannot reason using the animal logic we find in other creatures. Humans find it hard to relate to something that can’t respond accordingly, so our base reaction to insects is perplexity and sometimes even revulsion.
Of course, not all insects are on a personal mission to sap our resources and invade our private space (well, none of them are, but you get the point). Out of the more than 5.5 million insect species that call Earth their home, there are many that are content to work beside us in various ways, from pollinating our crops to clearing our domiciles of their less friendly counterparts.
In this latest blog, the insect control experts at Colorado Pest Management will be detailing some of the insects found in Colorado that are the most beneficial to humans and the environment. Most you might be familiar with, but be prepared to find out some surprising facts about these wonderfully helpful insects.
Lady Beetles (AKA Ladybugs)
Lady beetles — or as they are most commonly called, Ladybugs — are one of the very few insects that don’t cause people to recoil in horror when they see one. In fact, ladybugs have become synonymous with “cuteness” because of their round shape, bright red coloring, and visually pleasing black polka dot pattern. They are so cute that they have become the default graphic design reference for children’s clothing, backpacks, and halloween costumes.
Most of us don’t realize that lady beetles are actually highly effective predators that mercilessly stalk and gorge on their prey in a way that would make a tiger proud. Lady beetles love to hunt and consume aphids, mites, whiteflies, and other soft-scale insects, which makes them the perfect predatory protector of gardens and crops. In its short, one-year lifetime, a single ladybug can consume over 5,000 aphids! By itself, that ladybug is an extremely efficient killing machine, but when you consider the fact that the average garden contains hundreds of them, it’s easy to see why they are so treasured by gardeners and plant lovers.
By now, especially with the ongoing decimation of their worldwide population in the news, everyone knows that honey bees may be the most beneficial insects on the planet. They are a necessary part of the food cycle, contributing to plant pollination on a scale that puts other methods to shame. Honey bees contribute to the worldwide economy, helping us grow healthy fruits and vegetables that are shipped and sold to hungry people all over the globe. They also make delicious honey, which has been a food staple in many cultures for thousands of years.
Honey bees help in plant pollination through a simple process: when a bee collects nectar and pollen from the flower of a plant, some of the pollen sticks to the tiny hairs on the bee’s body. The bee then moves on to the next flower, where the pollen collected on the bee’s body is rubbed off on the stigma, or reproductive organ, of that flower. At that point, the flower can then begin the fertilization process and create new versions of itself. Without bees, plants would have a heck of a time trying to reproduce.
Try to imagine a world without honey bees, and how their complete absence would impact food production for omnivores and herbivores everywhere. Honey bees are vitally important to the survival of all of them, and us.
The praying mantis is known as one of the most alien-looking insects around, and the fact that female mantises will sometimes eat the heads of their male partners doesn’t help an already fearsome reputation that is based almost entirely on appearance. Despite their bulging eyes, thorny forearms, and strange movement patterns, praying mantises won’t attack you or your family while you sleep — they prefer to go after vegetation-destroying bugs like aphids, crickets, grasshoppers, and grubs.
If you ever encounter a praying mantis in a strange place, such as inside a house or on a sidewalk, don’t be afraid to walk right up to it and move it to a greener location by hand. It may attempt to defend itself by acting in a posturing, aggressive manner, but its tiny jaws aren’t meant for anything larger than a cricket, so even if it does manage to get in a nip on your finger, it won’t harm you a bit. Praying mantises are fascinating creatures to observe, so it’s definitely worth taking a closer look when you do find one.
Certainly not the most famous of garden bugs, Green lacewings are easy to mistake for other, similarly-sized flying insects you normally find in gardens. They have prominent compound eyes, oversized wings, giant antennae, and long, bright green bodies that blend in well with vegetation. They excel at munching on hordes of mites, aphids, and caterpillars, but they supplement their diet with generous helpings of nectar, pollen, and honeydew. Green lacewings tend to ignore other vegetation, however, so they are seen as great candidates for gardeners who are looking for an effective predator to help cut down on plant-eating insect populations.
Green lacewing larvae are called Aphid Lions, and for good reason. Aphid Lions look like brownish-colored caterpillars with bodies that taper off into a point at the tail end, but don’t let their harmless appearance fool you — these larvae are stone cold insect killers at heart. Lacewing larvae are pugnacious hunters that capture their prey (usually aphids) using tiny claws, after which they inject a corrosive toxin into their victim that can liquify its insides in less than 90 seconds.
Despite the innocuous appearance of both green lacewings and their offspring, you don’t want to make the mistake of picking either of them up. Adult green lacewings can release a stinky-smelling chemical from their glands when they are threatened, and larvae are known to bite humans out of aggression or hunger. While neither of these self-defense mechanisms are harmful to humans, they are quite unpleasant to deal with.
If you’ve ever spotted this strange little insect in your garden and immediately recognized it for what it is, congratulations! Flower flies are often mistaken for bees or wasps, due to the black-and-yellow coloring and patterning on their carapaces. As their name implies, they are flies that have evolved to survive alongside other garden-dwelling insects, hence their appearance and behavior.
Adult flower flies (also known as hover flies or syrphid flies) confine their diets to pollen and nectar, but their larvae will gladly seek out aphids and thrips for their meals. Flower fly larvae have none of the bright coloring of their parents, so don’t make the mistake of confusing them with grubs — they are amazingly competent predators that can make a huge difference in your garden.
Dragonflies can be found all over the United States, but they are especially prolific in Colorado where there are plenty of lakes and rivers for them to hunt and breed near. Dragonflies dart around in the spring and summer, wandering far from their nests in the search for food and mates.
Adult dragonflies hunt while flying, and they are adept at catching 95% of their prey in the air. Their larvae spend their childhoods growing in ponds and lakes, where they eat anything that is smaller than them, including tadpoles, fish, and even frogs.
Finding a shimmering, glittery dragonfly hunting in your garden is a good sign, because it means the dragonfly has found a suitable hunting ground and will most likely be making return trips to the area to chase after the winged pests assaulting your flowers or vegetables. Don’t swat at it or otherwise chase it away; dragonflies are highly territorial and will defend their nests and hunting grounds from other dragonflies, which means that your garden probably won’t be getting visits from more than one at a time during the season.
Let Colorado Pest Management Help You Take Care Of The Bad Insects
Since 1989, the pest control experts at Colorado Pest Management have been helping people deal with pest insects in their homes, at their businesses, or on their property. In addition to offering a highly effective insect control and removal program, Colorado Pest Management also offers environmentally friendly and safe mitigation services for bed bugs, wildlife control, voles, and birds.
Contact Colorado Pest Management now for a free estimate.