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The good bugs
Horticultural Happenings

The good bugs

Majority of insects are beneficial to plants

  • Updated
Adult green lacewing

The performance of natural populations of predatory insects -- like the green lacewing -- has been somewhat documented and varies with different situations, according to the University of Nebraska.

Summer is really here, if not by calendar, at least by the temperatures, and bugs. As an entomologist, I love when insects become active, but I know not everyone feels the same about bugs. I do not like mosquitoes and other annoying bugs that bother me outside and I especially dislike those that do damage to my plants. However, the majority of our insects are beneficial and therefore do not need to be sprayed or smashed.

Beneficial insects

Many of our insects are a benefit to us. Insects provide us with useful products such as honey and silk, eat or kill other insects, decompose things like dung and carcasses, and pollinate our plants. Without insects we wouldn’t have many of our foods including apples and cucumbers and we wouldn’t have more flowers and trees.

The pollination services are important for a lot of our plants. One plant in full bloom currently that is benefitting from pollinators is the linden tree. I have two magnificent lindens in my front yard that are covered with many different pollinators, but especially soldier beetles.

Soldier beetles

Soldier beetles are the yellow, soft-bodied beetles with a black dot on each elytra or wing. They are commonly confused with lightning bugs because they have a similar appearance but the lightning bug is orange not yellow. Also, soldier beetles do not have the capabilities to light up like a lightning bug.

Soldier beetles can be a bit intimidating, especially currently while their population is at its peak. They are often found in very high populations in Lindens and other plants as they are pollinating them. Soldier beetles will not harm you and will not bite you. The only problem with them is that they could fall on you when you mow under a linden tree with a large population of the beetles on it. If that happens, just brush them off so they can get back to pollinating.

Soldier beetles are not harming the tree, they are helping it by pollinating it. Linden trees are so attractive to many pollinator plants, which is why insecticides cannot be used on the trees until after the bloom period and no systemic insecticides can be used at all on lindens. Bees are also often found pollinating the flowers. There is no need to do anything to control the soldier beetles, they will move on when the lindens finish their bloom cycle.

Predatory insects

Another great group of beneficial insects would be the predatory insects. This includes insects like lady bugs, praying mantis, green lacewings, and some parasitic wasps. These insects feed on harmful insects like aphids and lacebugs that can damage our plants. I receive a lot of calls throughout the summer for insects such as aphids and lacebugs. These insects will suck out the juices on the leaves leaving a yellowish appearance to the leaves and causing the leaves to curl downward. Also, aphids will drop honeydew onto cars parked under the trees they are feeding on.

With the help of predatory insects, we can avoid having to use pesticides on our plants to control pests. If we give it a little time, the predatory insects will come in and kill the damaging insects without having to use insecticides. In fact, spraying an insecticide can lead to a reverse response in some cases. If you spray an insecticide, you will kill the predatory insects as well as the harmful insects. And the pests will come back before the beneficials and the rebound can be more damaging to our plants. So if you find that your oak or sycamore or maple has aphids or lacebugs, just leave it alone and in a week or 2 the problem will be gone, thanks to predatory insects.

If you have any further questions please contact Nicole Stoner at 402-223-1384, nstoner2@unl.edu, visit the Gage County Extension website at www.gage.unl.edu, or like her Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/NicoleStonerHorticulture and follow her on Twitter @Nikki_Stoner.

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