Beneficial Insects and
Bonsai Care

Beneficial insects are often called natural enemies.  They are categorized two ways - predators and parasites.  Predators feed on the entire host.  Parasites can feed on the pest, and/or lay eggs that produce larvae that feed on the the host. Can you tell the difference between these and the bad insects?

Common Beneficial Insects

Lady Beetles are also known as Ladybirds, Ladybugs and Lady Bugs. They are among the most easily recognized and one of the most valuable.

Photo by Mike Kling

Would you kill the insect in this photo?
I hope not, it is not a plant pest. 
It's the larval stage of a Lady Beetle.

There are over 100 species in the Coccinellidae (Lady Beetle) family. Most are red, some are orange. Some have two spots, some seven or more depending upon species.

The adults and larvae devour aphids, immature scale, mealybugs, mites and and some softer insect eggs. 

Up to about 500 aphids can be eaten during the larval stage of one Lady Bug and the mature insect is even more voracious!
Once a friend purchased 100 for a 5 acre nursery, the owner was amazed "the Lady Bugs did not fly away home.” (They must have had plenty to eat.)

Assassin Bugs are generally black or brown.  However, many also have bright color markings, such as the orange nymphs shown here.  They are 1/2 to 1 inch in length.

Photos by Mike Kling

The nymphs (shown above, to the left) are just as effective in controlling pests as are the adults.  
The bad news is they bite and it can be painful.  A fellow gardener told me "they are more painful than than a bee sting."

This mature assassin is also called the 'wheel bug' for obvious reasons.

Lacewings are common greenish or brownish beneficial insects (about 3/4 inch long - 19 mm) with transparent wings. The adults may be predatory or feed on pollen.  The larvae are often called “aphid lions” and feed on aphids, other small insects and eggs.

Parasitic Wasps are extremely important. These wasps are very small, most less than  than 1/8 inch  - 3 mm long.  Some larvae feed on and pupate inside the host.  Many harmful insects such as aphids, whiteflies, scales, leafminers and caterpillars are parasitized by these wasps.

Other parasite larvae live on the outside of its host where they construct numerous small, white cocoons attaching to the body of the host.  (Shown here on a Hornworm - photo enlarged to see detail.)

Photo - Mike Kling

Syrphid Flies are often called "hover flies."  

Over 1,000 species exist and they vary in size and color. 

Most hover and others also buzz.  They are usually yellow with brown or black bands, and resemble wasps and bees, but they do not sting. Their larvae love aphids.

In Addition to Beneficial Insects

The list above represents some of the better known insects. In addition to insects, there are also other types of good critters!

This particular snail stayed on a bonsai Ficus and enjoyed cleaning the pot and  tree for months, (without trying to eat it.)

In South Florida, native tree snails (Liguus fasciatus) are generally cone shaped, 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches - - 32mm  in length.  Their shell markings vary from one to another (almost like fingerprints.)

They are commonly found in Florida's native hammocks. A yard full of native trees (and bonsai) will attract them also.

There are also many snails that are not good and will chew everything in sight!  Be sure to read the  snails as plant pests page.

Remember, there are more good bugs than bad.

While you're busy with your everyday bonsai care, don't be too quick to kill insects, snails or even snakes ...  unless you know whether or not they're plant pests.  Discover the many beneficial insects where you live!

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