Many of us think of bugs as something to at best, avoid, and at worst, destroy. Sure, it’s annoying when they find their way through open windows or get trapped inside conservatories but however as much of a nuisance as they can be, a world without those scary creepy crawlies might not be as pleasant as you think.
Are bugs good for plants?
Many insects help to pollinate plants, and without them, those plants wouldn’t be able to reproduce. Without these vital pollinators, many important plants and vital food sources would perish. In fact, without bees, we would lose more than 90 species of plants that we rely on for food.
And it’s not just mankind that would be affected by plant sources lost by lack of pollination; many, many other species rely on plants pollinated by insects, while many species rely on the insects themselves as a food source. The disappearance of insects would have a catastrophic effect on our food chain and the life of every species on this planet would change dramatically.
We’ve taken a look at some of the UK’s most common bugs and why they’re so beneficial to life in on earth in the infographic below. Download a PDF version of the Beneficial Bugs Infographic.
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Beneficial Garden Insects
Benefits of Wasps
- Wasps feast on small insects such as greenfly. Without them we would be overrun with creepy crawlies.
- Like bees, wasps help to pollinate plants and flowers, providing a vital contribution to our planet’s ecosystem.
- Yellowjacket wasps help rid our world of dead insects by scavenging them to feed their offspring.
Benefits of Spiders
- Spiders play a huge part in curbing populations of other pests, including the world’s deadliest insect – the mosquito.
- Throughout history spider silk has proved incredibly useful: it’s been used to stop wounds bleeding, as silk in fishing lines, and as the crosshair in guns and telescopes.
- Recent research has shown that spider venom may prevent atrial fibrillation (a heart condition), limit brain damage in stroke victims, and may even be useful as a pesticide.
Benefits of Moths
- Many species of moths are very effective pollinators; their hairy bodies enable them to pick up pollen from any flower they land on.
- Moths are a vital food source for many other species, particularly owls, bats, lizards, and even grizzly bears.
- In some African countries, more than 90 percent of people eat moth and butterfly caterpillars (they’re packed with protein and healthy fats, as well as potassium, calcium, zinc, and iron).
Benefits of Dragonflies
- Dragonflies feast on small, flying pests including mosquitoes and gnats. They’re also very efficient at it, thanks to their ability to lock onto and track prey.
- The mere presence of dragonflies means good things: it indicates a healthy environment and clean water.
- In some national parks, dragonfly numbers are monitored to help document the health of the park’s water ecosystems.
Benefits of Ants
- As ants dig tunnels underground, they move and separate the soil, aerating it and helping oxygen and nutrients to enter the ground.
- Ants help to quickly decompose waste products that could otherwise rot, and potentially become infected with diseases.
- Ants perform a vital task for some species of plants by transporting their seeds to new locations.
Benefits of Ground Beetles
- Ground beetles are very effective at pest control; they will try to consume almost anything that moves within reach.
- Larger species of ground beetles particularly enjoy feasting on slugs and snails; destroyers of vegetables and plants.
- Ground beetles even help control weed growth by consuming seeds that would otherwise find their way into the soil.
Benefits of Ladybirds (Ladybugs)
- Ladybirds are a gardener’s best friend, with many species consuming up to 50 plant-destroying aphids a day, and as many as 5,000 during their lifetime.
- Some species of ladybird feast on mildew, a common scourge that affects many edible and decorative garden plants.
- In 1891 ladybirds were credited with saving the Californian citrus industry from a potentially devastating mealy bug plague.
Benefits of Lacewings
- Lacewings consume large numbers of small insects such as greenfly.
- As a result they are used commercially in some parts of the world in order to control pests on cotton crops.
- Even the larvae are effective pest controllers, consuming between 300 and 400 aphids before pupating into an adult.
Benefits of Bees
- Bees are vital pollinators; without them many species of plants, including around 30% of those we rely on for food, would die off.
- Bees also pollinate plants used as feed in the beef and dairy industries; without them, these industries would be threatened too.
- As well as producing honey (an important foodstuff and ingredient in products including wax, candles, and cosmetics), honey bees play a crucial role in helping us to monitor the effects of environmental pollution.
Benefits of Woodlice
- Woodlice rarely feed on live plants, in fact, they mainly feed on decaying plant material, playing a vital role in speeding up decomposition and recycling plant nutrients.
- Research identified woodlice to be beneficial in monitoring the ecosystem activity of grasslands.
- They’re also a nutritious food source to many other animals, particularly the Dysdera crocata, a type of spider which feeds exclusively on woodlice
How do you attract beneficial insects to your garden?
Attracting beneficial insects to your garden is a perfect way to keep your garden thriving. Beneficial insects eat pests such as aphids and beetles, while others develop parasitic relationships with pests, eventually killing their hosts, and others help pollinate crops to ensure a ripe harvest. In an ideal world, you would have all three kinds of beneficial insects in your garden (predators, parasitoids, and pollinators), but how do you attract them?
- Umbels provide the most desirable food sources for an array of beneficial insects. Umbels are defined as tiny clusters of flowers that provide visible nectar and pollen to smaller pollinators such as parasitic wasps. This group includes yarrow, dill, fennel, and wild carrots.
- Select a pesticide that targets the pest, rather than a pesticide that kills nearly everything it comes into contact with. Botanical pesticides kill a small number of beneficial insects than longer-lasting artificial pesticides.
- Provide the insets in your garden with water. The majority of beneficial insects have wings, so if water isn’t within reach, they’ll go elsewhere in search of what they need. If you wish to them to keep in your garden, don’t let their water source dry up, create little puddles for them to drink from.
For more information, please visit our resources:
NIH Medline Plus
Buzz About Bees