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What are Beneficial Insects?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Feb 06, 2024
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Buying bugs may not seem like an everyday activity, but it’s undertaken in small or large scale by gardeners who are interested in pesticide-free solutions to conquering garden pests. Many people may have heard of ladybugs or a few other insects as helpful in getting rid of various pests in the garden, but there actually a very large number of beneficial insects that fall into these classes, and are available for sale for home use. Essentially, the definition of a beneficial insect is that it either helps in pollinating plants or that it feeds on certain insects that enjoy infesting or chewing up organic matter. Some pollinate and munch their way through pests, but a few insects that are described as “beneficial” enjoy pests and plant matter as food and really aren’t that helpful. People who use this term are quick to point out that each gardener must weigh benefits for him or herself in deciding if a purchase of insects makes sense.

There are certain beneficial insects that can be attracted to the garden for free, and these are frequently the heaviest pollinators. Most forms of bees, butterflies and many types of moths pollinate plants and will be attracted by flowering plants. Purple and crimson-colored flowers, in particular, tend to be known as butterfly plants and attract plenty of honeybees and bumblebees, too. Similarly, they may draw the attention of certain wasps that also eat many insects.

Other times, people do want to add beneficial insects to their yard by purchase. A common choice is the ladybug, which feeds on aphids that can easily destroy the appearance of many flowering plants like roses. Usually available in spring to summer, many people may even find these at their local nursery. Directions have to be carefully followed when releasing or they have a tendency to fly away before they can do much good.

Ladybugs don’t tend to bite, but they may if they swarm and this brings up an important issue about beneficial insects. Some bugs may deliver a bite more often, so it’s important for gardeners to research those insects that will be of most benefit with least disadvantage. Additionally, a few insects may cause their own infestation problems; certain kinds of flies may be considered beneficial at one point but problematic later. For some people, the real problem is the “ick factor” of handling bugs in order to resolve other pest issues. Green lacewing flies, certain types of worms, praying mantis or others may be great in theory but terrifying in practice.

Lots of people feel that beneficial insects are still the best way to work on pest control in a garden and can be used to destroy aphids, mites, and other invasive bugs that are chewing up plants or causing plant disease. People should purchase the right bugs for their climate and the proper season. It’s very important to avoid pesticide use, because beneficial insects may come into contact with it.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By pleonasm — On Mar 13, 2014

@Ana1234 - Most gardens will eventually come into balance if the gardener is careful to try and follow natural patterns. It's not enough to not spray and hope the beneficial insects find your garden. You have to make sure your garden is a welcoming place.

Honeybees do need a variety of different kinds of flower, so if all you are growing is one crop, that's going to be a problem for them. Predator insects usually need to have places to hide in order to do what you want them to do. Some insects are attracted by particular plants and need those around to do their work.

It's complicated in some ways, but in others it is actually easier than a more barren garden, because diversity is key and that will often result when you do a little less work on scrubbing out every little invading plant.

By Ana1234 — On Mar 12, 2014

@clintflint - It's already at the point where farmers have to rent honey bees to pollinate their crops. It seems like whenever there is a problem with the environment it is always the beneficial garden insects and bugs that start dying out and the more harmful ones thrive. Which is particularly annoying because I don't want to use chemicals to treat my garden in case I hurt the good insects.

By clintflint — On Mar 11, 2014

A lot of our garden insects are in trouble these days because of industrial chemicals, imported diseases and changing weather patterns. Honey bees in particular are a huge concern for everyone. If their numbers go down any more we are going to end up with a food shortage.

Even if you don't want to keep bees yourself, you can still help by planting lots of beneficial plants around the place. It can really help the local populations to stay strong when you've only got seasonal food for them, like fruit trees that all bloom at once. They prefer to have a variety of different kinds of flowers too, so a wildflower patch is ideal. I know people get nervous about having them around, but they need to start getting nervous about losing them altogether.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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