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The Top Five Beneficial Insects for the Home Orchard

Posted on 22 October 2014   fruit trees

The Top Five Beneficial Insects for the Home Orchard

  We all know that insects can be a pest in the garden or orchard. In fact, I’ve devoted a couple of blog posts to control of insect pests, because disease and insect pests tend to be at least occasional problems on almost any cultivated fruit tree.

 

But thankfully, not all six-legged creatures are our enemies. There are, thankfully, a number of beneficial insects that can really help you out as you grow fruit trees. Here are the top five (at least as far as I can determine):

 

1) Honeybees, bumblebees, and butterflies – These are lumped together (but I’m counting them as one!) because they are perhaps the most essential insect species for fruit production – they’re pollinators. Without them, fruit trees won’t have sexual relations (!) and then there won’t be baby fruit tree seeds encapsulated in an edible fruit. On many commercial orchards of all sizes, honeybee hives are rented or just borrowed and placed in the orchard while the trees bloom. This ensures adequate pollination and provides plenty of material for honey making. Bumblebees and butterflies also play a part in pollination of fruit trees and other flowers (we watch both on the lantanas outside our house!). Bees are very sensitive to broad-spectrum insecticides.

 honeybee

 

2) Lacewings – Lacewings are an important insect predator in agriculture, including in orchards. Lacewings feed on numerous insect pests. The larval lacewing is predatory to aphids, spider mites, thrips, and even caterpillar eggs. The larval stage lasts a couple of weeks, and there are usually 2-4 generations of lacewings over the year. Lacewings are either green or brown, with the brown lacewings being smaller and consuming fewer insect pests. Adult lacewings look like big mosquitoes…but they’re not!

 lacewing1

3) Syrphid flies – Syrphid flies (also called flower flies) are a type of large fly that are attracted to fruit tree and other flowers. They are common throughout the South. The adult flower fly acts as a pollinator and the larvae consume aphids and other smaller insect pests. The larval stage lasts 2-3 weeks and there can be up to up to 7 generations each year! The larvae look similar to caterpillar pests, but they are in fact helping out!

syrphid fly

 

4) Ladybugs – No list of beneficial insects is complete without mentioning the ladybug. Many companies sell quantities of ladybugs for the garden. We’ve never purchased these, but we’ve had decent populations of ladybugs on our trees. The ladybug is the generic name for a number of small beetle species that are known for their brightly-colored backs. Ladybugs of various species attack insect pests such as aphids, scale, and some moth species larvae. Research indicates that some species of ladybug attack only certain species of pests. This research has led to the introduction of specific ladybug species in agricultural settings as an effective biological control of targeted pests. The ladybug feeds on the eggs of many different insect pests.

 ladybug

5) Big-eyed bugs (Geocoris sp) – Big-eyed bugs are common in Texas and across the United States. The adults look like similar to a large horsefly, with large bulging eyes. The adults and nymphs (an immature stage) feed on caterpillars, fleahoppers, mites, aphids, and whiteflies. They also suck plant juices but are not considered harmful. The adult big-eyed bug lays its eggs on plants once the weather warms up in the spring. They are also be harmed by most insecticides, but they are very common around homes and in crops and may return even after an insecticide application.

 big eyed bug

 

There of course other insect species that help out with gardens and orchards – these are just a few of them (I know we didn’t even mention the wonderful non-insect that is a pest killing machine – spiders!). And in many cases, insecticides are necessary to produce a decent crop – but these beneficial insects will definitely help you on your quest to grow fruit!

 

What experience have you had with beneficial insects? Let us know in the comments!

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