Tim Daly

Many people are disturbed at the sight of insects, seeing them as a threat that should be eliminated at all costs. True, some insects are harmful in that they bite, sting, transmit diseases, and destroy our crops. However, amount to only three percent of all insect species. The others are not harmful; in fact, many are beneficial and play an essential role in nature.

When we see flowers, we admire their beauty and sometimes their fragrance. However, plants do not have flowers for the sake of our enjoyment. They attract insects that are pollinators, which is an integral part of plant reproduction. The pollen is created by male flowers or in flowers with both male and female organs, and it is used to fertilize the female parts. In time, a seedpod is produced that could be innocuous in size or a large fruit or vegetable. One of the most well-known pollinators is the honeybee. Honeybees pollinate many plant species, including some of our food crops. Many fruit trees depend on honeybees for pollination to set fruit. In parts of the country where honeybees are not as abundant, honeybee hives are placed in the orchards where they stay there during the flowering of the trees and then are removed.

mosoquito240Several beneficial insects feed on harmful ones. Lady beetles, both the adult and immature forms, love to feast on soft-bodied insects such as aphids, mealybugs, and whiteflies. The lacewing, not to be confused with the insect pest of azaleas, the lace bug, is frequently observed flying around lights at night. Their larvae also feed on the same type of insects like the lady beetle. However, the winged adult does not eat. Praying mantises consume a variety of harmful insects; however, they are highly territorial and are widely dispersed. Several species of ground beetles will feed on pestiferous insects that spend time on the ground, such as some caterpillars. The syrphid fly, also known as flower or hoverflies, are yellow and black. They are sometimes confused with yellow jackets, but they do not sting. The syrphid fly larvae feed on soft-bodied insects.

Some insects parasitize their prey. The adult lays eggs on or in the target insect that then develop inside their hosts, eventually killing them. Most are either small wasps or flies. Many caterpillars are hosted. For example, the tomato hornworm can be observed with small, white, oval-shaped objects attached to it. These are the cocoons of a predatory species wasp.

Beneficial insects are attracted to several flowering plants. Examples include yarrow, fennel, dill, lavender, goldenrod, and others. Consider planting some in your garden to attract these insects.

In nature, insects play an essential role in the decay process of dead plants and animals. Termites consume dead trees. Ants, beetles and other insects also feed on dead wood. However, they are pestiferous when they decide to take up residence in our homes. Ever wonder what happens to the leaves that trees drop in the fall? They provide a source of food and shelter to many species of insects.

Keep in mind that very few insects are harmful to us. Be thankful for the good that many provide for us because we would not be able to exist without them.

Timothy Daly is an Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent with UGA Extension Gwinnett. He can be contacted at 678-377-4011or tdaly@uga.edu