Green Thumb – Garden Warriors at Work

Before the high tech world of smartphones, iPads, Kindles and Play Stations, there was another world to explore. This fascinating place in which I grew up was called nature.

Early in the morning, neighborhood kids would gather and prepare to explore the nearby fields, ponds and woods in search of interesting discoveries. It was here that my interest in the insect world began.

What could be better than furry, brown and black caterpillars, beautiful butterflies and moths, or a jar of fireflies to keep in your room?

Predatory Praying Mantid 

It was later that I came to understand that even though many species of insects are capable of serious destruction, there is a contingent of insects working to help us in our gardens and yard landscapes. These warrior insects are quietly at work pollinating our flowers and vegetable gardens and destroying the bad insects that live in our environment.

Let me introduce you to the “Big Three” of the beneficial insect world – the pollinator, the parasitic and the predatory insects. These are the good guys living in your garden.

Most of us are familiar with the pollinating insects such as honeybees, butterflies and moths. With all of these insects, it is important to provide pollen and nectar-rich plants and to reduce pesticide use to ensure their success.

Predatory Assassin Bug

One of the most fascinating members of the beneficial insect family is the parasitic wasp. The adult wasp seeks out the eggs or larvae of specific insect pest. She lays eggs in the pest. The wasp offspring develop inside and feed on the pest. Eventually the pest dies, and the adult wasps emerge. This is a very efficient method of controlling pests.

The praying mantid is one of the largest types of a predatory insect. The mantid will feed on anything that they can catch. Praying mantid egg cases are a popular mail order item. Just so you know, the mantid is cannibalistic. When the egg case arrives, the first mantid to hatch will usually begin to eat the rest of the mantids as they emerge.

The assassin bug is not as well known as some of the other predatory insects. They are raptoral, catching their prey with their large front legs. They feed on ants, flies and stink bugs. If you want to see this unique predator, watch for them on goldenrod or other late summer/early fall blooming plants. Look but don’t touch because if bothered they will bite.

Parasitic Wasp

The Earth Day message for 2019 is “Protect Our Species.” Insect loss is of special concern. As gardeners, we can play an important part in helping to preserve and protect beneficial insects in our gardens.

To increase the number of beneficial insects on your property, learn to recognize good insects, use selective insecticides toxic only to pest insects, plant a diversity of plants for all seasons and provide cover to help insects survive the winter months.

Barb Lindholm – University of Illinois Extension, DeKalb County Master Gardener


Submit your questions to or call the University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Help Desk at 815-758-8194. The Desk is open for questions Mon. – Fri., 9 a.m. – noon.