Many insects which occur in lawns are beneficial insects. They provide a form of natural control of pest insects or assist in the breakdown of organic matter so nutrients can be returned to the soil |
If the first line of defense against garden insect pests is vigorous plants, beneficial garden insects are the second line of defense.
In a healthy organic garden, diverse species act as checks and balances on population surges of any individual pest.Pollinators do nothing to control garden pests, but without them, tree fruit, berries, and row crops like squash, cucumbers, and melons can't set fruit.
Crops like tomatoes, beans, and peas, can self-pollinate by wind action, but yields and quality of fruit are much better with the cross-pollination provided by honeybees and other pollinators.
Another general group of beneficial insects is the parasitoids. These are small insects (generally smaller than the host) which develop inside or on the body of a single individual. The adult female finds a suitable host and lays her eggs on the outside of the body or inserts the eggs through the skin into the internal tissue of the host. The immature parasitoids feed on the organs and fluids inside the victim and gradually weaken and kill the host.
There are many parasitic wasps which occur naturally in New England and are active in lawn settings. These wasps are adapted to lay eggs in soft-bodied insects and do not bite or sting people. Some of the more common groups include:
Ichneumon Wasps: These wasps are about 1/2-inch long, often reddish or brown with a long string-like appendage on the tail end. This ovipositor is used to insert eggs into the victim. Adults feed on nectar and pollen, while the immatures feed inside various caterpillars and sawflies.
Braconid Wasps: These wasps are somewhat smaller than ichneumon wasps, seldom exceeding 1/2-inch in length. The larvae parasitize caterpillars, beetle larvae, and aphids, all of which can be active in lawns.
Chalcid Wasps: These wasps are the smallest of the parasitic wasps and may range from 1/5- to 1/8-inch long. Adults feed on pollen and nectar, while immatures feed on aphids and other small soft-bodied insects and mites which are active in lawns.
Predator populations rise in response to increases in prey populations, so they're the cleanup crew when things get out of hand.Garden insect predators include beetles, centipedes, lacewings, ladybugs, wasps, tachinid flies, syrphid flies, spiders, robber flies, dragonflies, and praying mantises.
Unlike parasitoids, most predators are not prey-specific—they eat anything smaller or slower than themselves—sometimes including smaller members of their own species. They will usually shift to whatever prey species is most abundant. This makes them an excellent failsafe if garden pests escape the gauntlet of parasitoids. As beneficial garden insects, larval forms are often more voracious than adults.
If Parasitoids are the first responders, Predators are the National Guard. Under normal circumstances, parasitoids can check surges in pest populations
Another group of beneficial insects is the saprophytes. These organisms feed on dead or decaying organic matter and help break down plant tissue as part of their natural cycle. A similar process occurs in forests. When a hiker turns over a stone or a log, large numbers of insects and other small arthropods are usually present. Many of these creatures are saprophytes, feeding on decaying leaves or wood. Several small, seldom noticed insects are very effective saprophytes in turf. One of the most common examples is Collembola, or springtails. These small (usually less than 1/25 inch) insects have a structure on the underside which can release like a spring, flipping the springtail up into the air, away from foraging insects. They often occur in very large numbers (20 to 30 in a 4 inch diameter core).
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