Keeping the Good Bugs Alive (and Getting Rid of the Pests)
Is it possible to terminate only the bad bugs?
There seems to be a fine line for most homeowners when it comes to bugs and insects. On one hand, you know that certain creatures are meant to help the environment and fuel your avocado addiction. On the other hand, you're tired of swatting at pests and watching them destroy those plants you worked so hard to keep alive. It can be tough living in harmony with Mother Nature in this modern world of ours. When everything comes with a quick fix, it can easy to turn to insecticides to spray away the pests, killing everything in the chemicals' wake. But is that really the way to thank our Earth for providing us with fruits, veggies, and oxygen? Isn't there a better way to weed out what we kill and what we don't?
Why, yes. Yes, there is.
Laurie Reid Dukes is an entomologist and Charlotte's Assistant City Arborist, and she breaks down the bug situation pretty easily. The first step to handling your pest problem is to first identify that the insect is, in fact, a pest. Everything is Google-able, so you have no excuse if you exterminate a good-and-fine Green Lacewing. What's a Green Lacewing, you ask? Google it. (Green Lacewings are vicious predators to the eggs and young stages of spider mites, whiteflies, moths, beetle larvae, and mealybugs, so these guys are good to have around.)
Common Beneficial Bugs You’ll Likely See in Your Garden
Wheel Bugs (eat caterpillars, aphids, beetle larvae, and other soft-bodied insects)
Green Lacewings (see paragraph above)
Brown Lacewings (same as Green Lacewings)
Ladybird Beetles/Ladybugs (eat aphids, whiteflies, mites, and scale insects)
Fiery Searcher Beetles (eat cankerworms and caterpillars)
Hover Flies/Flower Flies/Syrphid Flies (eat soft-bodied insects including aphids, scales, thrips and caterpillars)
Parasitoids, which are flies and wasps that develop inside the hosts, killing the hosts. Common types are Tachinid Flies, Braconid Wasps (attack tomato hornworm caterpillars), Ichneumon Wasps, Trichogramma Wasps, and Aphelinidae Wasps)
Spiders (eat aphids, caterpillars, cucumber beetles, flies, grasshoppers, leafhoppers, plant bugs, and thrips)
How to Get Rid of Pests
Just as you’ll need to identify the good bugs versus the bad bugs, Dukes also says it’s important you take a look at which stage of life your pests are in to make sure you can properly handle the issue. Doing this will tell you which life stage will be impacted by an insecticide.
For example, Dukes says some insects are damaging and/or a nuisance during the larval stage (caterpillars, beetle grubs, sawfly larvae, etc.), the adult stage (beetles, fleas, etc.), or both larval and adult stages (aphids, scales, ticks, etc.) of their lives. Once you determine this information, you can then research the best ways to use insecticide. Unfortunately, most insecticides you find at grocery and “big box” stores are broad spectrum, which means they kill both good and bad bugs. You’ll want to instead find targeted insecticides that work only on the pests you’ve identified. Then, make sure you read up on how to best deliver the insecticide, such as the best time of year and where to spray it.
Pest Control Remedies Without the Use of Insecticide
If you want to stay away from spraying chemicals around your home, there is another approach. Dukes personally prefers using the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach, where having knowledge of the pest and its habits is important.
“Often managing the environment can reduce the pest to a manageable level and the use of pesticides is not necessary,” Dukes says. An example of this would be to remove standing water in which mosquitoes lay eggs and reproduce. If ticks are an issue in your yard, Dukes advises you keep the vegetation mowed, and reduce leaf litter, brush, and tall weeds from around the home or where people frequent in the yard.
“Other types of environmental control are exclusion, reducing the pests’ food sources, and/or reducing or changing the habitat the pest prefers,” Dukes explains.
Either don’t plant vegetation that attracts deer or other wildlife that may carry ticks, or, use fencing to keep those animals out (exclusion). If a pest is entering a structure such as your home, make sure you properly seal cracks around doors, windows, or pipes that may allow the pest to enter a structure. Also, cover attic vents with fine mesh metal.
Bottom Line on Insecticides
“If an insecticide is required,” Dukes says, “it is best to choose one that is targeted to that pest. There are many insecticides that are targeted to specific groups of insects. For example, the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki, or Btk, targets caterpillars and does not affect beneficial insects. The caterpillars eat the bacteria, and the toxin causes the caterpillar to die of starvation and/or infection.”
So, folks: be a little less liberal with the chemicals, and instead learn a little more about the insects hanging out in your yard. You might have some extremely helpful friends out there eating those pests you despise. Not all insects are created equal.