What Are Big Eyed Bugs: How Are Big Eyed Bugs Beneficial In Gardens
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By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Big eyed bugs are beneficial insects found across the United States and Canada. What are big eyed bugs? In addition to their characteristic ocular orbs, these bugs have an important purpose. The insects feed on many varieties of insect pests that cause crop, turf, and ornamental damage. Big eyed bug identification is important so you don’t confuse them with a variety of these pest insects.
What are Big Eyed Bugs?
The best time to spot these tiny bugs is in the morning or evening when dew still clings to leaves and blades of grass. The insect only gets about 1/16 to ¼ inch long (1.5-6 mm.) and has wide, almost triangular, heads and huge eyes that turn slightly backwards.
The big eyed bug life cycle starts with eggs that overwinter. The nymphs go through several instars before becoming adults. These adult insects have an appearance of a wasp mixed with a beetle mixed with a fly.
How are Big Eyed Bugs Beneficial?
So how do these insects benefit the garden? They eat a variety of pests that include:
- Various insect eggs
For the most part, big eyed bugs in gardens are a benevolent presence and will aid the gardener in combating all the pest insects. Even the young insects eat their share of the bad insects threatening your plants. Unfortunately, when prey is low, the big eyed bug will resort to sucking sap and munching your plant parts. As luck would have it, the average organic garden has plenty of options for the insect’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Big Eyed Bug Identification
These insects resemble many of the big trouble-making bugs in some areas. Chinch bugs, false chinch bugs, and pamera bugs all look very much like the big eyed bugs. Chinch bugs have a longer body and darker coloration. False chinch bugs are speckled and have brown and tan tones. Pamera bugs are slender with a smaller head and decidedly smaller eyes.
The most obvious feature on the big eyed bugs is the bulging orbs at the top of their heads, which tend to tilt backwards. Big eyed bug identification is important to distinguish between this beneficial insect and the pesky chinch bug. This avoids widespread spraying that might kill one of your best chances at integrated and non-toxic pest management.
Big Eyed Bug Life Cycle
Preserving big eyed bugs in gardens requires knowledge of what the five instar, or nymph stages, look like. The instars last only four to six days and the nymph changes in each phase of its development. Nymphs are predators too, and their appearance mimics the adult, except they are wingless, smaller, and have darker spots and coloring. Adult big eyed bugs only live about a month and a female can lay up to 300 eggs.
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Read more about Beneficial Garden Friends
There are, of course, pros and cons to purchasing garden bugs to attack insects that you don't want in your garden. On the plus side, garden bugs are easy and affordable most of the year, they eat many different kinds of pests, and they are particularly effective against insects that attack perennial plants, like yarrow, according to Michelle Cook, a former greenhouse coordinator at Red Butte Garden in Salt Lake City, Utah. Garden bugs, which are easy to release most of the year, are also much more environmentally friendly than insecticides, and they can be as or more effective at killing pests.
On the minus side, garden bug eggs can take one to two weeks, or longer, to hatch and start feeding on your pests, and some varieties of adult garden bugs will disperse and not stay long in your garden. Also, some garden bugs are so voracious that they'll eat just about any other insects in your garden, even helpful ones like ladybugs.
If you do decide to use garden bugs, it's important to learn which types are best to eliminate the pests in your garden. Introducing the wrong garden bugs may have no effect on your insect pest population. The sections below describe which garden bugs to use based on what kinds of pests you are trying to fight.
Rove Beetle Vs. Earwig
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Good Bug: Rove Beetle
Characteristics: Rove beetles are slender, less than an inch long. This is a large family of insects with many variations, but most rove beetles are gray or brown. The majority of their abdomen is visible because they have short wing covers. They scurry about, often flying or running. When they run, they often raise the tip of their abdomen in a way that resembles a scorpion, though rove beetles are harmless.
What attracts them to the garden: These insects look for moist environments such as decaying organic matter including leaf litter and fruits or vegetables that have fallen to the ground, compost piles, loose bark from fallen trees, dung and dead animals.
What makes them good: They feed on other insects, such as mites, flies, aphids, mosquitoes, fleas and fly maggots that infest carrion.
Controls: If you find these insects annoying, clean up the garden by removing decaying matter, and these beetles will disappear on their own.
Bad Bug: Earwig
Characteristics: Earwigs are elongate, flattened insects less than an inch in length with colors ranging from light red-brown to black. A tell-tale difference between an earwig and a rove beetle is that earwigs have forcep-like pincers on the end of their abdomen. Immature earwigs resemble adults but do not have wings and are white to olive-green. They are nocturnal, feed on living or dead plant material and some insects and seek shelter during the day.
What attracts them to the garden: Like rove beetles, earwigs seek out moist, dark areas such as mulch, organic debris, cracks and crevices and spaces under flower pots.
What makes them bad: If they are in the garden in sufficient numbers, they can feed on and damage lettuce, strawberries, dahlias, marigolds, zinnias and roses. They also can become unwanted visitors to homes, often entering basements or crawl spaces through cracks and crevices and then making their way into living areas. They are not poisonous and, as a rule, don’t bite or sting humans. They can, though, pinch the skin with their forceps. If the mention of earwigs conjures up fables — that they enter the ears of sleeping people and eat their brains — or memories of "Star Trek II" — when Khan implants mind-controlling eels into the ears of two officers — rest assured, the fable is as fictious as the movie.
Controls: As with rove beetles, you can discourage earwigs from taking up residence in the garden by keeping the garden clean and free of hiding places such as leaf litter, stones and various debris. Keep them out of the house by moving mulches away from foundations, keeping shrubs trimmed, caulking and repairing cracks and crevices and making sure there is a tight fit around doors, windows and screens.
Attracting Beneficial Insects
There are many insects that you will enjoy having in your garden. If you attract the beneficial insects, they will help control the pests.
The first thing you need to do to attract and keep beneficial insects is protect them. Than means no pesticides! Even occasional use of a pesticide to control a difficult pest will harm the helpful insects more than the pests. You may have that feeling that those pests are really tough and even the pesticides will have to be applied heavily to control them - and you are right! Some pests, such a fruit flies, have even learned to metabolize pesticides. The helpful guys are much more susceptible to the pesticides. So to get rid of that one tough pest, all your beneficial insects will be killed or driven out, taking your best protection with them. Nothing will deter the pests from settling in like a nice colony of predators.
A few years ago it was fashionable to purchase beneficial insects. There are a few problems with that approach. The insects available for purchase are extremely limited compared to the beneficial insects that are available naturally. You can invest a fair amount of money stocking your garden with insects, but if they don’t find the habitat they prefer in your garden, and the insects they prey on are not present, those insects you purchased are going to head for another garden anyway. Your neighbors may benefit from your purchase more than you will. And, unless you know exactly which pests are causing your problem and which predators will take care of that problem, you are wasting your money. Provide the environment in your gardens that beneficial insects are looking for, and then let nature do the rest. If there are pests, eventually the good guys are going to come along to take care of them.
So what attracts the beneficial insects? Luckily, many of the same things that you want in your garden to make it pretty, to make it healthy, and some of the extras that you provide to attract butterflies, hummingbirds and birds. How convenient!
Specifically, these are things that will attract and keep beneficial insects in your gardens:
Many beneficial insects feed on pollen and nectar so they will be attracted to many of the flowers that you plant to attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Since they are inspecting all your plants in search of nectar, they are also pollinating your vegetables and fruit. Make sure there is always something blooming for a constant food source. A variety of flowers will accommodate different feeding apparatus (mouthparts).
Create garden beds with perennials that require little or no disturbing so the beneficial insects that prefer to hide underground or in the mulch are not driven out.
Make sure there are mulched, graveled or sodded areas that are never disturbed to provide areas for the predators to build a population.
Plant herbs which attract pests natural enemies.
Let a few stands of weed remain throughout your gardens or plant ornamental grasses to establish permanent residence for the beneficial insects. An area left to go wild with weed is not nearly as effective as a managed area as outlined here.
A windbreak such as hedges or fences will reduce dust blowing in on small insects and also provides extra protected cover in heat and bad weather, as well as a place for the beneficial insects to overwinter. The shrubbery will also provide additional, non threatening, insects for the beneficial insects to feed on.
Establish a butterfly and insect bath. Set up a shallow bath in flat dishes with gravel and rock platforms for the insects to light on. Make sure you keep water in it consistently and keep it fresh to avoid breeding mosquitoes.
Annuals that attract and harbor beneficial insects:
Big Eyed Bugs In Gardens - Information About Big Eyed Bug Life Cycle - garden
KINGDOM: Animalia | PHYLUM: Arthropoda | CLASS: Insecta | ORDER: Hemiptera | FAMILY: Nabidae (damsel bugs)
Damsel Bugs (often called "nabids," from the family name Nabidae) are in the order Hemiptera which also includes assassin bugs, stink bugs, plant bugs, and many other insects. All insects in Hemiptera share a few characteristics, including piercing and sucking mouthparts, and wings which are membranous and clear at the tips, but hardened at the base.
Damsel bugs resemble a cross between a stink bug and a praying mantid. Like stink bugs, damsel bugs have a somewhat flat, five-sided shape. Like mantids, damsel bugs have spiny "raptorial" front legs used to grab prey. Most damsel bugs in Kentucky are about 1 cm long and are tan or gray in color.
Damsel Bug, Nabis sp., showing raptorial front legs
(R. Bessin, 2001)
Damsel bugs are not pests, and are believed to be beneficial insects. They are known to feed on several economically important pests, including caterpillars like the corn earworm, soybean looper, and green cloverworm. However, damsel bugs also feed on other predators, like assassin bugs, minute pirate bugs, and big-eyed bugs. In fact, all of these predators feed on one another, a phenomenon called "intraguild predation" by scientists.
DAMSEL BUGS, NABIS spp.
The most commonly encountered damsel bugs in Kentucky are in the Nabis genus, most of which are tan in color and 3/8" long when fully grown. Nabis americoferus and Nabis roseipennis are particularly common in clover, soybeans, and alfalfa. Damsel bugs in the Nabis genus are also found in fence rows, gardens, and other habitats with low-growing, sunlit vegetation.
Damsel Bugs in the Nabis genus (R. Bessin, 2001)
Although damsel bugs are fairly common, they are sometimes difficult to find. Damsel bugs tend to stay low to the ground, often hidden within thick vegetation. With patience, damsel bugs can usually be found if a patch of alfalfa or clover is closely examined on a warm summer day. Damsel bugs can almost always be captured in a sweep net when used on a hot day in alfalfa, clover, or soybean.
Although damsel bugs are able to fly, and can run quickly at times, they will usually remain still long enough to snap a picture as long as they are not disturbed, especially on a summer morning before the heat of the day arrives. If you get lucky, you may find one catching and eating prey.
"Damsel bug" may not seem like a good name for a predatory insect. Damsel bugs are so-called because they hold their front legs up, almost as though they were lifting a skirt hem for a spin around the dance floor.
Although many damsel bugs resemble the ones shown on this page, some closely resemble ants, such as this one pictured at the Garden Safari website.
Beneficial Insects and How To Attract Them: Damsel Bugs
There are over five hundred species of damsel bugs worldwide, forty of which are found in North America. They belong to the insect family Nabidae and the most common ones are in the genus Nabis. Damsel bugs (also called Nabids) are generalist predators and are found in many crops and gardens where they stalk and ambush their prey. They are 1/4 to 1/3 inch long and usually yellow to tan-colored although there are also black ones. Their legs are stilt-like and the front legs are slightly larger than the other legs to facilitate grasping their prey. Their narrow heads have large bulbous eyes, long antennae and a flexible, needle-like mouth part that is tucked under the head and body when not feeding. They have two pairs of functional wings and some species are excellent fliers.
Damsel bugs feed on many kinds of insect including aphids, moth eggs, leafhoppers, small sawfly larvae, mites, asparagus beetle, Colorado potato beetle eggs and nymphs, caterpillars of corn earworm, European corn borer, imported cabbageworm, and some armyworms. Unfortunately they also feed on other beneficial insects such as assassin bugs, minute pirate bugs, and big-eyed bugs.
Most damsel bugs overwinter as adults and begin their life cycle a bit later than other predatory insects with peak activity in mid- to late summer.. The females lay up to two hundred white oval eggs in plant tissue and the nymphs that emerge in eight to twelve days look like the adults but are wingless and smaller. The nymphs go through five instars over a period of three to four weeks, living on the ground in plant material or soil and eating the same kind of diet as adults..
Damsel bugs need cover for resting and over-wintering, plants for egg-laying, and plenty of other insects for food. They can be found in field crops such as alfalfa, soybeans, and other legumes, grassy fields, and gardens. To encourage damsel bugs in a garden, select a large variety of plants that will attract many kinds of insects for their food supply. Especially good choices include caraway, Cosmos bipinnatus, fennel, spearmint, golden rod and marigold (Tagetes tenuifolia). Incorporating ground covers, grasses and low shrubs into the planting scheme provides shelter and is especially beneficial.