Not all bugs are bad. Insects get labeled as "pests" when they start causing harm to people or the things we care about, like plants, animals, and buildings. Out of nearly one million known insect species, only about one to three percent are ever considered pests. What about the rest of them? Some insects actually help us by keeping the pests in check.
If we let them do their jobs, many types of insects can actually help us out:
- By preying on pest insects.
Spiders are predators of insects. So are some types of beetles, flies, true bugs, and lacewings.
- By parasitizing pest insects.
Parasitic insects, like some small wasps, lay their eggs inside insects or their eggs. This can help drive the pest population down.
- By pollinating plants.
Insects like native bees, honeybees, butterflies, and moths can provide this service, helping plants bear fruit.
- Don't forget about non-insect beneficial animals!
Birds and bats are examples of animals that can feed on pest insects.
Think about it this way: your backyard ecosystem is a cafeteria for all sorts of insects. The balance of that system depends on whether you cater to the "pest" insects or to the "beneficial" ones.
What can you do to cater to beneficial insects?
- Attract them to your yard, garden, or other landscape.
- Include a variety of native plants to provide a variety of food sources (like nectar).
- Provide shelter for them. Include a mixture of features like ground cover plants, dead leaves or other plant material, and some areas of bare soil.
- Protect them so that they can help you in return.
- Practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
- Identify the pest – make sure it’s not actually a beneficial insect!
- Decide how many of the pest insects are tolerable. Remember, some pests are necessary to feed the beneficial insects and some plant damage is natural for any ecosystem.
- Think about using alternative control methods while you wait for the beneficial insects to take over for you. Be patient, it can sometimes take several days for them to make a difference.
- If you choose to use a pesticide, consider selecting one that will target your pest specifically, rather than a broad-spectrum product.
- Keep your lawn and other plants healthy. Give them appropriate amounts of nutrients, water, sunlight, and do regular upkeep. A healthy ecosystem will have fewer pest outbreaks.
Learn about attracting and protecting beneficial insects by digging deeper:
If you have questions about this, or any pesticide-related topic, please call NPIC at 1-800-858-7378 (8:00am - 12:00pm PST), or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pictures of Beneficial Insects:
Last updated June 12, 2015