Professor Communication and Media
Denise is a devoted organic gardener who challenges herself to live as sustainably as possible in her home in southeastern Pennsylvania. She is a professor in the Department of Communication and Media at West Chester University with a Ph.D. from Kent State University. Her teaching and research areas consist of sustainability, close interpersonal relationships, integrating work and family, and conflict resolution.
Learn more about Denise
August 24, 2022
In the Garden of Deeden: Bugs — Are You My Friend or Foe? (Part 2: The Friends)
Last month I discussed “bad” bugs, which can be really bad news for home gardeners. Luckily, many species of insects are beneficial, and often help do the dirty work of controlling the bad bugs by eating them. Many beneficial insects, including bumblebees, honey bees, mason bees, butterflies, and others, also act as pollinators, critical for many of our food crops but also for other plants too. And you can do things to attract them by having diversity in your yard/garden and including species known to specifically attract them.
I see many different species of butterflies in my garden, including both black and yellow swallowtails but also including the beloved monarch whose population has been declining drastically over recent years and has recently been placed on the endangered species list. One way to attract monarchs is to plant milkweed in your garden since monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on the leaves where the adult monarch had deposited their eggs.
Ladybugs also are, in general, considered extremely beneficial. There are several species, however, such as the Asian lady beetle, which is considered a nuisance and can seriously displace native ladybugs. It is possible to distinguish the Asian species from others with a little bit of effort:
- All ladybugs are red with black spots, while Asian lady beetles may vary from red to orange.
- The easiest way to tell them apart is to look at their heads. The Asian lady beetle has a more pointed head and a “M” shaped mark.
Those that are beneficial typically eat many garden pests, including aphids, asparagus and Colorado beetle larvae, spider mites, and whiteflies.
Although many other beneficial insects exist, I’ll end with one for which I’m personally fond even though the news about them is not all good. If you’ve seen a praying mantis in the United States, it will be the European species. They are masters at hunting and have voracious appetites. Many entomologists recognize them as beneficial insects, and they can be a huge benefit due to the sheer volume of insects they consume.
Others consider them generalists – they don’t distinguish between beneficial creatures and nuisance ones. So whereas they feast on flies, mosquitos, crickets, and other insects, they’ll consume beneficial insects too, like bees and butterflies. They’re also known to consume animals up to three times larger than them. I hesitate to tell you that if you’ve heard rumors about them preying on hummingbirds, it is true, along with frogs, lizards, and even snakes. Luckily, their preferences lean toward nuisance bugs. I’m fascinated by them and I have seen them in my garden every year I’ve lived here. I seem to have an uncanny knack for seeing them; even the babies. They are welcome here.
It really is gratifying for me to see the diversity of insects in my garden. It’s also been very important to learn to know which bugs I want to control and which I want to make feel at home in my garden.