Q: How can I tell if a particular bug is good or bad? And what makes the good bug good and the bad bug bad?
Answer: Good bugs are beneficial insects. Some are predators (ladybugs/ladybeetles, ants, stink bugs and green lacewings) that fight and consume other insects. Others are parasitoids (wasps or flies) that lay their eggs in or on the host insect and the larvae feed on the host’s body. For example, Larra Bicolor wasps lay eggs on mole crickets.
There are decomposers (earthworms and microorganisms) that consume dead and dying yard waste, and insects that add nutrients to the soil. Pollinators are another group of beneficial insects (bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, moths, beetles), all working to pollinate the approximately 85 percent of flowering plants that must have insect pollination.
Bad bugs wreak havoc on our landscape plants and turfgrass. There are several ways to identify these bugs. You can access the University of Florida (UF) website at http://bugs.ufl.edu/# and click on bad bugs (or good bugs) to view color photos. For pest identification, you can view and/or purchase several posters and identification card decks at the UF IFAS bookstore, http://ifasbooks.ifas.ufl.edu/c-13-insects.aspx.
You also can bag (in a plastic baggie) the pest and bring it to the Extension Service for identification from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The Master Gardener help desk can assist you.
It’s important to know that most bugs are good (99.9 percent). When we kill off the good bugs, we get to take on their work. I take on enough landscape work as it is, and my guess is that you do, too. So scout your landscape for pests on a weekly basis. If you identify a bad bug, treat it in an environmentally friendly way.
If you must use a chemical, don’t broadcast it. Treat only what needs to be treated; be sure you have correctly identified the culprit and read and re-read the instructions on the chemical label.
For information, please see the University of Florida publications “Natural Enemies and Biological Control” by Hugh A. Smith and John L. Capinera at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/IN/IN12000.pdf and “Managing Beneficial Insects in the Landscape” by Virginia Overstreet, UF IFAS Extension Hillsborough County, at http://hillsborough.ifas.ufl.edu/documents/pdf/fyn/factsheets/ManagingBeneficialsFACTSHEET.pdf.
Lynn Barber is the Florida Yards and Neighborhoods agent at Hillsborough Extension.. Reach her at BarberL@hillsboroughcounty .org.