Published August 12, 2020
Let’s talk about the yings & yangs of the garden! Specifically involving our garden predators and how they help balance and manage the ecosystem in our gardens for us. Insects/critters- good & bad all play a huge role in the biological development of our garden!
Garden predators aka our Gladiators specifically allow you to combat garden pests without interfering with the ecological balance in the garden, which can be destroyed overtime by the overuse or incorrect use of sprays and other forms of chemical insect control, even when it's organic! Luckily for us, there are many other ways to combat pests that are easy and effective and never damaging to the garden! Cue in the Gladiators!
(Video of a Garden Spider munching on a three cornered alfalfa hopper)
The bad pests feed our good pests and the circle of life continues!
As mentioned above: organic or not, insecticides are not always the best course of action when dealing with a pest infestation. Although, a lot of times they are easier and faster at solving the problem at hand, they can also be pretty detrimental to your good garden bugs too, many of which we will go over today. The overuse of chemicals can also cause insects to build immunity to sprays which causes "Super Bugs" to develop leading to food pandemics! Therefore, you'll need both the good and the bad bugs to have a balanced ecosystem. My advice? Just don't be too quick to rush to the insecticides because once a good balance is established, your garden gladiators will continue to reproduce and will thrive in your garden for years to come!
As mentioned above, the overuse of chemicals can cause pests to grow immune to said chemical/treatment, which makes it near impossible to kill the pest and over time this exact practice can cause a much bigger food crisis! If we can't protect our crops, how will be eat?? That's quite the scary thought to ponder!
In today’s article, we will discuss a less-talked about option for pest management. One that requires zero chemicals or treatments and will also greatly benefit your ecosystem! Today, we are going to talk about the TOP 12 Garden Predators (aka Gladiators) and how they can help combat a huge array of pests in your garden without the use of a single spray or other insecticide! I love this topic, so let’s get started!
THE TOP TWELVE BENEFICIAL GARDEN INSECTS AND CRITTERS
(Huge Lady Bug munching on insects on a dahlia plant)
(Lady Bug larvae feasting on white flies)
1: LADYBUGS: Clearly my very favorite garden predator, hence our Farm name, so of course, this is the first to be named but this list certainly isn't in any specific order. Ladybugs are powerful garden gladiators, eating 5,000 insects in its lifetime, which is only a year span! That’s on average 14 insects a day! A newly hatched larvae eats about 350- 400 aphids in just 2 weeks- about 50-70 in a single day! Ladybugs favorite snack is a good ol' aphid but they will also eat fruit-flies, mites, mealybugs, leafhoppers, scales, thrips and many other insects. It’s very important to note that there are thousands of ladybeetle species and in fact 500 of them are located just in North America alone. A ladybug isn’t just red with back spots, they can also be orange, brown, pink or even all black! Their markings/color are special and so specific to the species of ladybeetles- the pattern/color signals to predators that the insect is a foul tasting bug and to stay away from eating it! Very interesting! For those who may want to increase your ladybug numbers, they can be easily sourced through your local Garden Shops or online! 14 insects a day eaten per ladybug: with 500 ladybugs- that's 8000 pests eaten per day!! That equals to over 112,000 pests eaten in just 2 weeks!!
(Little green garden frog hanging out in the shade on a giant squash leaf!)
(Big ol' country Toad hanging out in the garden, looking for the night crawling pests!)
2. FROGS/TOADS: Both are unsung hero’s of the garden, they are extremely beneficial as they feast on a large array of pests such as slugs, mealybugs, beetles, caterpillars, cutworms, grasshoppers, grubs and so many more! 1 little frog can eat over 100 insects in one night and a toad can eat up to 1000!! We find these good guys ALL over the garden at night and we gladly welcome and encourage them! They can be found in the leaves and at the base of plants and often times on the ground at the edge of your raised beds. Although toads and frogs can also consume our good bugs like ladybugs and lacewings, we cant be too harsh on them, as they can literally eat anywhere from a 100-1000 bugs per night! Meaning over the summer months that equals out to 10,000-100,000 bugs by ONE single frog or toad! That’s incredible! If you see them in your garden, do a happy dance!
(Praying Mantis on a Lavatera Flower!)
(Praying Mantis eating a large bumble bee! )
3. PRAYING MANTIS: A common used garden predator that is especially hardy and badass! One of the strongest and most brutal predators in the garden, it has a long neck that can move the head 180 degrees to see its prey, it has huge compound eyes and lightening fast reflexes that all help catch even the craziest of prey, including moths, caterpillars, crickets, grasshoppers, flying insects and even small birds!! Which is insane! Mantis can eat anywhere from 800-1000 insects in its lifetime, which only consists of about 9 months! They can be found online but it’s important to only source and purchase mantis species that are native to your area. The reason for this is that alien mantis species can be invasive and dangerous in parts of the world they do not normally live. A mantis from Asia, for instance, could decimate or instinct a whole species of hummingbird, particularly the ruby throat species! Praying Mantis also can be bought in their cocoon stage, they will hatch and then you can release them into your garden. They are also easily sourced through Garden shops or online!
(Garden Spider looking for a meal on a Cannabis Plant)
4. SPIDERS: I know they are scary, truth be told, I'm just as terrified of them as the next person. When they are in my house, especially my bedroom or bathroom, they usually do not have a good ending. Unless its a tarantula, of course, of which we would always safely take outside (yes, we live in the California foothills, where they migrate through each year, you can literally see them running across the roads). But strangely enough, when I see spiders in my garden, I'm not near as creeped out and I always leave them be. Maybe subconsciously, that's my brain telling me that I'm in the spiders house now and I should not mess with them. I also recall vague memories from childhood of learning how spiders will eat nasty bugs in the garden and how they are good for the ecosystem, which has always stuck with me. Spiders feast on an array of insects including aphids, wasps, beetles, mosquitoes, and flies. Spiders will generally eat at least 1 insect a day and with the thousands of spiders running around your garden, they can help manage and balance your garden ecosystem, making them very beneficial. So, if you see 'em, leave 'em be, they are a friend, not a foe!
Image sourced from http://www.ucanr.org
5. LACEWING: I miss these magical fairy looking garden gladiators! Mainly because they are the predator that has the most voracious appetite!! When I say miss, its because we had them in great numbers when we lived in the city and they were so beneficial in our gardens, especially for our cannabis plants, but now that we are up in the foothills, I've seen few and far between.. And since I don't have them around me all the time anymore, I don't have anything in my archives for photos, so I included the one I sourced to the left and chose this specific image so you can see all the life stages of them. A little garden fail I'll tell you about, was how many years ago- before I knew better, I would remove lacewing eggs off of my plants, thinking they were cater-pillar eggs, not lacewing! Oh man was I heart broken, to say the least, when I found that out for the first time! The great thing about lacewings is they are another insects you can purchase and release in your garden! They are pretty hungry eaters too and remind me a lot of ladybugs but even more hungry than they are! They can eat 200-300 aphids in the larva stage and 200 per week on average!! Lacewing are yet another beneficial insect you can source at a Garden Shop or online!
Image sourced from www.charlottenewsvt.org
Image sourced from www.burkemuseum.org
6. Lizards/Snakes: More unsung hero's of the garden! Lizards can munch on plants (they don't do much damage), though most dine on insects, predominantly slugs, ants, aphids, beetles, grasshoppers, and sometimes even the good guys like wasps and spiders. The truly amazing thing about Lizards is that they are very sensitive to chemicals and so if you see a large presence of them in your garden, it is a good indication that your garden has a low amount of pesticides and heavy metals, which means your veggies are grown in a cleaner environment. Lizards like plants to hide in, lots of shade and some water too. So you could always try to create a natural habitat for them to help increase their presence in your own garden.
Snakes on the other hand eat both insects and rodents and can really knock down a grasshopper, mice or even gopher problem in your garden! Most common found snakes in gardens are Garter, Rat, and King. Garter, often mistaken as "Gardener snakes" are the most common of all. They are shy, do not like to fight and if they see you they will often take off in a hurry and will leave you alone. They will eat a wide array of insects in your garden which include slugs, snails, grasshoppers, caterpillars, horn-worms, and rodent too. They can be a wide range of different colors so they can often times be tough to identity but they are always fairly small generally do not grow larger than 2.5 feet in length. Rat snakes often snack on rodents that hang out in the garden but also can eat some lizards, birds and squirrels too. They can be super helpful if you have a garden that is eaten by rats and mice, which is most common in Urban or City Gardens! They look similar to copperhead snakes so just be sure you know what you are looking at before assuming its poisonous. King snakes on the other hand, eat rodents but actually often feast on other snakes, they have immunity to venom and because of that they are often found eating the bad guys like copperheads, moccasins and rattlesnakes! Snakes can be scary looking but most do not want to hurt you. You can easily coexist with snakes in your garden and they are a huge benefit in so many ways.
(Mud-dauber Wasp hanging out in the Garden on some insects damaged plants just searching for a quick meal!)
7. PARASITIC WASPS: Okay, lets be real, wasps are scary, I mean who wants to be stung by one of those guys? Not me and the worst part is they can sting you over and over again. This is always true if you are near their nest or trying to kill them, this is NEVER true though when you see them traveling around the garden. They are on a mission and that mission has one goal, FOOD. So leave 'em be because they can help control insect infestations! Wasps feed on nectar & honey as adults and can be devastating to urban beekeepers and funny enough, I have a separate article all about this coming out soon. But wasps also collect, kill and feed small insects to their young. These small insects can be anything they can catch and kill, they do not care, their young will eat any insect that is brought them and so the wasps will collect and kill whatever they can catch or find. Now, the reason why they are called parasitic is because almost all wasps reproduce by laying their young inside a host. They are ferocious garden gladiators and can help balance your ecosystem!
(Image sourced from plunketts.net)
8. ASIAN LADY BEETLES: Although these guys look almost exactly like ladybugs and are often mistaken for them, they are in fact a very different species entirely. I remember when I lived in japan when I was a kid, we were drowning in lady bugs each year, I had no idea they were actually lady beetles! Now that I know the tell-tale differences between the two, which we will discuss more in detail in jut a bit, I now know they were lady beetles all along. One pretty nasty characteristic is that they pee a yellow stinky liquid all over you when you handle them. That's a memory from my childhood in Japan that I'll never forget. I always thought all ladybugs peed on you but I had no idea it was only the Asian Lady beetle. Another nasty characteristic of theirs is they can be quite invasive and tend to hang out in windows, doors, decks, and inside the walls, ceilings and attics of homes and buildings. Some of the differences between the two are: Lady Beetles are usually larger in size and have a ton more spots, generally 16-19 while lady bugs, generally have 4-6 spots. Lady beetles will display a black "M" on its head as shows in the photo above. They were first introduced in the U.S. for pest control but they were thought to have not survived the conditions so the were not eradicated but because of this it has caused huge infestations of these lady beetles to pop up around North America. That all being said, they reproduce fast and can do wonders in our garden as they can eat 100-250 aphids or tree scales per day and a larvae can consume between 500-1200 eggs in just that life stage alone!! They have been most beneficial in soy- farming as they seem to do major damage on the soy aphid which can destroy entire fields of soybean!
(Image sourced from Cambridge.org)
9. BENEFICIAL NEMATODES: These microscopic organisms that are unsegmented round worm parasites and surprisingly enough they are actually GOOD for the garden. How you may ask? Well, they infect larvae, grub & pupae hosts that live in your garden soil that would eventually hatch into insects that are devastating to the garden if not treated. Beneficial nematodes can do wonders on large numbers of pests and without ever harming other beneficial insects or earthworms! Beneficial nematodes are applied to the soil and can live there for up to a year and a half after application, granted that they still have a food source. If they run out of food, its a good thing because that means they have taken care of your pest problem but once they run out of hosts they will die off and biodegrade in your soil. And because they are a parasite they are an all natural pest management practice that is non-toxic to plants, humans and animals. Another huge benefit is that the host insect never builds any resistance to nematodes so there is no issue with reapplying every 12-18 months to keep up with your integrated pest management practices. Beneficial nematodes can take care of a wide range of Beetles, Weevils, Maggots also Chafer bugs, Bill-bugs, Cut-worms, Army worms, Fungus Gnats, Sciarid larvae, Sod Web-worms, Girdler, Mole Crickets, Iris Borer and so many more! As shown in the photo above they infect their hosts by entering through their natural openings, they then secret a bacteria that kills the host within 24-48 hours, they feast on that insect until its gone and then they search for a new host to infect. Beneficial nematodes can also be purchased easily online for use in your home garden!
(Image sourced from https://growingsmallfarms.ces.ncsu.edu)
10. ASSASSIN BUGS: These guys look very similar to squash bugs and other pests but in-fact they are very beneficial garden gladiators! They are apart of the Reduviidae family and their mission is to feed on any insect they can! That sometimes means the good bugs too but for the most part they feed on all the nasty guys in the garden! How they kill their prey is by piercing them with their needle-sharp beak protruding from their mouth then injecting them with a poison that kills them then liquefies their insides. They then suck their insides out until their is only a shell left behind (Men in Black status or what??). They often hang out in gardens, orchards and flower gardens and are most often their favorite hunting spots are near flowering plants, especially sunflowers. They feed on aphids, leaf-hoppers, beetle eggs, wide range of larvae, small flying insects and caterpillars. They are super-tough insects too and can live for several years and survive freezing temperatures. Be careful handing them though, they can also easily pierce human skin and the poison can be pretty dang painful.
(Image sourced from www.dragonfli.co.uk)
11: PREDATORY MITE: Mites suck the juices and literal life out of your plants but predatory mites on the other hand, feast on those pests and help fight against a mite infestation! They feast on the eggs, larvae and adults of the plant sucking varieties of mite and other insects like thrips! There are multiple different types of predator mite, so knowing which species to use is simply based on what kind of insects you are trying to combat. For instance, western mites are effective against spider mites and two-spotted mites while the yellow mites are a good predatory mite to fight against European red mites. One predatory mite can feast on up to 5 adult spider mites in one day, which is a pretty incredible feat! An adult female lays 50 to 60 eggs which will hatch into larvae and become adults. The entire cycle takes about 10 days, twice as fast as pest mites, giving them a huge leg up on the pests! There are multiple ways to attract or relocate predatory mites to your garden and just like other garden gladiators above, you can even purchase them from multiple online stores too. They do take some time to establish so you will want to treat if you plan on using predatory mites as soon as you see the damage or insects themselves. The amazing thing about predatory mites is that they can live up to 4 weeks without a food source so you if you know that every year you deal with thrip or spider mite infestation in years past, you can apply the predatory mite a couple weeks before the outbreaks are at their peak and stop them before their numbers get too high.
(Image sourced from www.canr.msu.edu)
12: MINUTE PIRATE BUG: Less common than other garden gladiators mentioned above; the Minute Pirate bug aka the Insidious Flower Bug is a very tiny 1/5 inch insect that has a surprisingly painful bite and is a powerful garden gladiator that can help manage pest infestations throughout the summer months. They feast on a wide array of bugs including: spider mites, aphids, thrips, psyllids, white flies, insect eggs, and small caterpillars and can feast on up to 30 spider mite sized insects per day! Adults can lay up to 100 eggs in its lifetime and eggs can hatch in 4-5 days! They can be purchased online like many of the other garden gladiators mentioned above but are also often found naturally in gardens. Mostly found around flowers and are very sensitive to insecticides so by avoiding even board spectrum pesticides you can help keep the minute pirate bug populations high. But if you absolutely have to, try only using benign pesticides such as horticultural oil, insecticidal soap, or products containing Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).
Did you have any idea that there are THAT many gladiators battling it out in your garden?? Silently, but oh so deadly against those garden pests!! Its pretty damn impressive if you calculate how many insects can be eaten in a single day by all the insects and critters listed above! And now that we've dove a bit deeper into what I would consider a very well rounded list of the TOP most beneficial predators commonly found in our gardens, I hope that you learned something new about a powerful Garden Gladiator that you never knew existed or maybe a few new facts about another you were already familiar with!
Regardless of where you are at in your garden journey, having a basic knowledge of your most important Garden Gladiators in your garden and why you want to welcome, encourage, relocate or purchase for your garden, is so important for your future pest management practices and maintenance. Its so easy to use harsh chemicals that work fast but they can be super damaging to your garden gladiators too and causing so many more problems in the future, like dead soil and super bugs.
Although there are many more beneficial garden predators in the world, I consider these the TOP 12 Garden Gladiators that can help you in your battle against unruly garden pests! I hope that with this article, you feel more confident in using Garden Gladiators in your Integrated Pest Management system, oppose to easily accessible pesticides! Thank you for reading!
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