Tag Archives: beneficial

Mistaken Mosquito

Dateline: January 11, 2013*

I remember when I first moved to Florida I saw what I thought was a HUGE mosquito, thinking that there were mutant bugs down here, big enough to drain a body of blood in one gulp.  They certainly look like mosquitoes, but the poor critters are swatted and squished all due to a case of mistaken identity.  The flying mimics are actually crane flies and they don’t bite.

Some are reflective. You can see how they may be mistaken for a giant mosquito

Crane flies are beneficial in our gardens.   Some species’ larvae are aquatic while others spend their youth in the soil.  Both break down organic matter, returning nutrients to their respective habitats.  As with most of nature, occasionally too much of a good thing can pose a problem.  Some crane fly species can be a pest to agriculture.  That’s why it is so important to have a balanced garden.  Avoid pesticide use as chemicals kill the good bugs as well as the bad, and often kill those bugs that will control others to avoid them becoming pests.

They have extremely long legs as shown by the Colorful Tiger Crane Fly (Nephrotoma spp.)

Both larval and adult crane flies provide an important food source for birds, reptiles, spiders, fish and other insects such as dragonflies, mantids, centipedes and beetles.  Fishermen have been known to use the larval stage of members of the family Tipulidae (Large Crane Flies) as bait. As you can see, there are plenty of predators to keep the population in order.

Some seem acrobatic such as Brachypremna dispellens

Tipulidae is the largest family in the Order Diptera. Given this, identification can be mind-boggling. You can find out everything you ever wanted to know about the anatomy of a crane fly at that identification key link.  Suffice to say I was unable (or unwilling) to crawl around counting wing lines or antenna segments…that and I really don’t wear my reading glasses when I am walking around the property calling on critters for a photo shoot.  Old eyes can’t see tiny nuances.

Brachypremna dispellens have white legs

Crane flies undergo complete metamorphosis.  Some species have an elongated rostrum (think Pinocchio), a straw-like appendage used to draw nectar from flowers.  Thus, we can conclude that they also perform pollination duties.

wake up and smell the Bidens alba

I noticed that most of the time when I see the adults fly it is when it is slightly damp or overcast, so if it is daytime and you see a mutant mosquito, take a good look before you swat.  You may be saving the life of an insect that will help your wildlife garden grow more beautiful.

Limonia subgenus Geranomyia are drawn to flowers

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on January 11, 2013 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.


Flipping My Earwig

Dateline: August 9, 2013*

Earwigs (Doru taeniatum) are predators of aphids and others

When I think of earwigs I recall my youth and the creepy crawly insects that were hidden in our somewhat damp basement.  Never did I consider that they could be beneficial in any way.

Of course likely those I encountered in the past were exotics. Earwigs,

“can devastate seedling vegetables or annual flowers and often seriously damage maturing soft fruit or corn silks, they also have a beneficial role in the landscape and have been shown to be important predators of aphids.

Another benefit is that earwigs eliminate decaying organic materials from the environment. They eat algae, fungi, mosses, pollen as well as insects, spiders and mites both dead and live.

Two of the younger members of the clan

This week I discovered a family living in the folds of a Redroot (Lachnanthes caroliniana) leaf.  I was thrilled to discover they are a native variety called the Lined Earwig (Doru taeniatum).  With its bright, shiny pallor that glistens in the sunshine it doesn’t seem creepy to me at all.

Enjoying the sunshine while dancing on the Bidens alba

Earwigs are generally nocturnal, although I’ve seen my guys out and about during the day in recent times,  dancing quickly up and down the Bidens alba and grass seedheads.  The genus Doru are important caterpillar predators and have a particular taste for the egg of the velvetbean caterpillar, a pest of pod plants especially soybeans.

Family oriented

Unlike a lot of the insect world, the momma earwigs provide care to their offspring, feeding their nymphs through regurgitation.  They do, however, seem to play favorites.

Still growing up, this one doesnt seem to quite have full wings.

Rumor has it that they fly, but I my bunch didn’t take to the airways.  An earwig’s defense mechanism is to squirt foul smelling liquid or use the pinchers to…well…PINCH! Stand back and keep your fingers away, or just don’t annoy the little buggers.

Tachinid Flies are an enemy of earwigs

Predators include the Tachinid fly, toads, birds, chickens and ducks.  On a good note, natural enemies of the exotics, include arboreal earwigs (Doru taeniatum). So, I’m welcoming my new little friends!

Out and about in the sunshine eating Bahai grass seedhead (YAY!!!)

While large populations may damage grass and be a pest if they get inside your home, they are generally harmless preying on more harmful insects.  Just use common sense to keep home areas free from dampness.

So, while earwigs as a family may be a mixed bag, I’d vote for keeping my friendly native genus around.

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on August 9, 2013 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

A Rosy Picture in the Garden

Dateline: June 15, 2012*

Most people cringe with the mention of snails in the garden. Often terrestrial snails are given a bad rap. In Florida we have about 140 native and exotic snail and slug species. Most land snails are not pests. They feed on algae and fungi. Most Florida snails are small, seldom noticed, and do not feed on plants.

With regard to snails in general:

“Only a very little part of them is edible or a garden pest. Much more there are numerous snail species in our gardens, which not only are not pests but even are quite useful, in that they eat other snails or their eggs, they return wilted plant parts to the circulation of nature or they help in the manufacture of compost.”

What gives these snails a bad name is that they are often confused with slugs, which do eat your plants and cause damage. In walks (creeps? crawls?) the Rosy Wolfsnail (Euglandina rosea) a mollusc native to Florida. This beneficial is predatory on other snails.

Snails, such as this Rosy Wolfsnail have shells. Slugs do not have shells

The Rosy Wolfsnail uses two ways to dine on other snails. In one, it grasps, and consumes the intended prey alive. Alternately when eating smaller snails, it swallows the prey AND its shell.

Only the shell remains of the snail to the left. I guess it was too big to eat the crunchy part too

In its native range which consists of Southeastern Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and widespread in Florida including the Keys (University of Florida 2009), the snail does not interfere with the balance of nature.

He was in there, just wouldn’t come out to play

Unfortunately, this snail was introduced to control the giant African land snail in certain Pacific Rim countries where they wound up also eating the native snails. This is an important lesson in why exotic species should not be introduced outside their native range. They can overpower native species resulting in their demise. The Rosy Wolfsnail is now an invasive species in that area.

Since I live in Florida, the Rosy Wolfsnail is a welcome visitor to my garden.

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on June 15, 2012 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Killer on the Loose

This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on September 19, 2014 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com.

I am not a bee
I am not a bee

Tis the time of year when huge “bees” are flying all over the yard.  They aren’t actually bees, but bumblebee mimics and they prey on the very insects they resemble.  Meet a Robberfly (Mallophora bomboides), a member of the insect order Diptera.  This particular species is commonly called “Florida Bee Killer” due to their preferred food choice.

“Prey are primarily social bees and wasps, including honey bees, bumble bees, carpenter bees, Polistes and Vespa wasps.”

This doesn’t necessarily make them a favorite of pollinator lovers.

I fly and I AM a fly
I fly and I AM a fly

You can’t just base an arthropod’s benefit in your beautiful wildlife garden merely by what you see in one phase of its existence.  The larval stage of this insect’s lifecycle lives in the soil and are predatory on some pest soil dwellers such has grubs.  Think Japanese Beetles and it give a whole new perspective and makes them a lot easier to appreciate, no?

Adults capture prey on the wing, injecting their toxic saliva to subdue it. The chemical makeup of the saliva in turn starts to liquefy the prey turning it into a digestible liquid meal. I wonder if this is how strawberry shakes mark their beginnings.

Coming in for a landing.
Coming in for a landing.

These odd-looking creatures are quite noticeable in flight due to their large size and also because they buzz when they fly.  They are pretty slow in flight and gracefully land on vegetation where they grab hold of a stem or blade of grass and rest while they scan the landscape for their next meal.

I’ve seen dozens of these guys this week…a true population explosion. While I’m not thrilled with seeing them snag a bumblebee, I won’t complain about them grabbing hold of stinging yellow jackets, which tend to be a bit aggressive at a barbeque.

We can’t pick and choose what predators prey upon
We can’t pick and choose what predators prey upon

I also have to say that I haven’t seen any Japanese Beetles this year, so I will give the robber flies credit for keeping them in check, although the moles and armadillos might take umbrage that they aren’t getting credit.

So, the lesson here is to look beyond one habit that you may find to be unacceptable insect behavior and remember that there may also a bright lining elsewhere in the overall cycle of life.  Enjoy all aspects of the creatures in your beautiful wildlife garden.

Hit Men in the Native Plant Garden

This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on November 13, 2014 at the defunct national blog nativeplantwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments and find working links to other stories.

Sycamore Assassin Bug (Pselliopus sp.)
Sycamore Assassin Bug (Pselliopus sp.)

I met a new Assassin Bug in my garden this week.  My place is home to several different subfamilies of assassin bugs which are predators and beneficial in the garden.  Assassin Bugs paralyze their prey by injecting toxins that dissolve tissue and easily sucking the juices through their proboscis.

This fellow (or gal) looks a little like a zebra, fancy stripes and all.  I haven’t gotten confirmation on exact species yet, but it is in the Pselliopus genus, commonly referred to as the “Sycamore Assassin Bug”.  I’m not clear how it got that common name but rest assured, my Sycamore tree is safe.  Assassin bugs don’t kill the plants; they are predatory on other insects.

hunting on Deertongue
hunting on Deertongue

Sycamore Assassin Bugs are known to hibernate as adults under rocks or bark.

I seem to have interrupted his pollinator meal
I seem to have interrupted his pollinator meal

I seemed to have interrupted this fella in the middle of making a meal of a small bee or wasp that was nectaring on Hairy Chaffhead (Carphephorus paniculatus). Also known as Deertongue, this plant is native to the southeast, including here in Florida.

Milkweed Assassin Bug
Milkweed Assassin Bug

The most prevalent assassin in my garden is the Milkweed Assassin Bug (Zelus longipes).  Again, no need to hide the milkweed, they get their common name because they are easily mistaken for the Large Milkweed Bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus) a species generally considered a garden pest.

Zelus nymph with prey
Zelus nymph with prey

Z. longipes are beneficial, generalist predators feeding on a wide range of soft-bodied prey in garden and fields such as mosquitoes, flies, earthworms, cucumber beetles and caterpillars (fall armyworm, rootworm etc.).

Assassin Bugs seem unconcerned with the size of bullies
Assassin Bugs seem unconcerned with the size of bullies

Assassin bugs can be aggressive and do have the capability of biting if disturbed.  They are not afraid to take on bullies many times their size including humans.

Common name of Bee Killer probably indicates it isn’t a favorite of your average gardener
Common name of Bee Killer probably indicates it isn’t a favorite of your average gardener

Another visitor to my place is the Bee Killer Assassin Bug (Apiomerus floridensis).  This species seems to have a preference toward capturing bees as prey so it is not as well loved as other members of the Assassin Bug family (Reduviidae). Keep in mind that it also can be high on the beneficial list because it eats hornworms, beetles and other prey that you might consider pest species.

Spiny Assassins on Fleabane. The cycle continues
Spiny Assassins on Fleabane. The cycle continues

And the last species that has visited recently is the Spiny Assassin Bugs (Sinea sp.). Native Fleabanes (Erigeron spp.) seem to be the favorite hunting ground.

Love those stripes!
Love those stripes!

No need for pesticides when you let the assassin bugs do natural biocontrol in your native plant and wildlife garden.  I’m loving my new addition!