Beneficial Insects: Lacewings and Ladybugs
Beneficial insects are an important part of integrated pest management (IPM) in your Florida-Friendly landscape.
Beneficials pollinate plants, contribute to the decay of organic matter, and attack other insects and mites that are considered to be pests. They can do a lot for a garden, and attracting and safeguarding them will help your landscape thrive.
The best thing you can do for beneficial insects is learn to recognize them. Adult lacewings and ladybug beetles are easy to identify, but their immature forms look entirely different.
Lacewings are considered beneficial insects because they eat aphids and other pests, and they don’t bite or sting. The green lacewing is proficient—in the larval form—at attacking pests like aphids, scale insects, whiteflies, and others. There are actually 22 species of green lacewings found in Florida and they belong to the Chrysopidae family. Lacewings can be ordered from beneficial insect providers for gardeners to use in their own landscape.
Female lacewings carefully choose the spots where they will lay their eggs; they pick a place close to an aphid colony. Each egg is laid on the tip of a hair-like stalk. This helps prevent the newly hatched larvae from eating their siblings. Once hatched, the larvae feed voraciously on pests. Lacewing larvae resemble small caterpillars, but move more quickly and have longer legs and mouthparts.
Adult lacewings are less than an inch long and light green, with two pairs wings that have a netted appearance. They have chewing mouthparts and feed on insects, nectar, pollen, and honeydew (a secretion that comes from aphids and some scale insects). These beneficial insects aren’t particularly great fliers and are commonly found near colonies of aphids.
Less commonly seen is the brown lacewing. Brown lacewings prey on pests during larval and adult stages of their lives. Brown lacewings eat soft-bodied insects, like aphids, mealybugs, as well as insect eggs.
- Brown Lacewings of Florida (Insecta: Neuroptera: Hemerobiidae)
- Green lacewings of Florida (Insecta: Neuroptera: Chrysopidae)
Ladybugs, or ladybird beetles, are a family of insects often considered beneficial to humans, because most of them eat other insects that feed on our plants.
In Florida, there are about a hundred known species of ladybugs. The adults and larvae of most of them feed on soft-bodied insects like scales, aphids, whiteflies, and mites. Ladybug adults are distinctive, round, flying beetles that come in many colors. But the larvae look very different, and are often mistaken for pests.
Remember that many pesticides kill not only pest insects but also beneficials. If you do use a pesticide, choose one that targets only the pests you’re having trouble with. Finally, provide the pollen and nectar sources that beneficial insects like. Try selecting a wide variety of plants with many small flowers that bloom at different times of the year.