Tiny gar­den helpers

Some creepy-crawlies de­serve to be cel­e­brated for the pos­i­tive work they do in our gar­dens, in­clud­ing prey­ing on other de­struc­tive pests. By Han­nah Stephen­son

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - GARDENING AND PETS -

The warm weather has not only helped our plants, but in­sects also seem to be thriv­ing. Un­less it’s a bee or a but­ter­fly, how­ever, in­sects can of­ten get landed with a bad rep­u­ta­tion — from those pesky green­flies suck­ing sap and lily bee­tles nib­bling pre­cious lilies, to cater­pil­lars caus­ing chaos on cab­bages.

But most in­sects should be wel­comed with open arms, be­ing an es­sen­tial in­gre­di­ent for a healthy plot, ac­cord­ing to An­drew Sal­is­bury, prin­ci­pal en­to­mol­o­gist with the Royal Hor­ti­cul­tural So­ci­ety (RHS; rhs.org. uk). Many are use­ful pol­li­na­tors, help to break down and recycle dead an­i­mal and plant ma­te­rial or serve as preda­tors, which helps keep other in­ver­te­brates in check, in­clud­ing plant pests.

So, when you’re try­ing to pick the bright red lily bee­tles off your prize blooms, or bat­tling clouds of aphids on the stems of roses and other plants, look a bit deeper into your beds and bor­ders for the in­sects which not only pro­vide colour­ful in­ter­est, but may also ben­e­fit your gar­den.

Here, Sal­is­bury lists five eye-catch­ing gar­den in­sects to look out for:

1. Ele­phant hawk-moth cater­pil­lar (Deile­phila elpenor)

The large, 8cm-long, brown, snake-mim­ick­ing cater­pil­lars of this bright pink moth can be found on fuch­sias dur­ing sum­mer.

When dis­turbed, the cater­pil­lars can re­tract their heads into their bod­ies, and when ex­tended again are said to re­sem­ble an ele­phant’s trunk. They feed on wild­flower hosts in the wild, such as rose­bay wil­lowherb, and it’s un­usual for them to se­ri­ously dam­age gar­den plants.

2. Rose chafer (Ce­to­nia au­rata)

One of Bri­tain’s shini­est bee­tles, this 2cm­long metal­lic green beetle (be­low left) can some­times be found feed­ing in flow­ers, where they may oc­ca­sion­ally dam­age a few petals. Gar­den­ers may feel it’s a price worth pay­ing, how­ever, as the C-shaped lar­vae feed on de­com­pos­ing plant ma­te­rial and are of­ten found in com­post heaps, where they help ready the com­post. Some species of chafer beetle are pests be­cause their lar­vae feed on the roots of plants. But the rose chafer is rel­a­tively harm­less, as its lar­vae feed on de­cay­ing or­ganic mat­ter, rather than liv­ing plant ma­te­rial.

3. Euro­pean hornet (Vespa crabro)

Some­times alarm­ing be­cause of their size and slow, buzzing flight, the UK’s largest na­tive wasp sees queens reach­ing up to 3cm in length. Although it can cause con­cern, it is less ag­gres­sive than other species of so- cial wasp and is a use­ful preda­tor of in­sects in­clud­ing other wasps and flies. It should not be con­fused with the smaller, darker, in­va­sive Asian hornet which, if seen, should be re­ported. See non­na­tivespecies.org for more in­for­ma­tion.

4. Large red dam­sel­fly (Pyrrho­soma nym­phula)

Fe­ro­cious aerial preda­tors of the in­sect world, this is one of sev­eral species of drag­on­fly and dam­sel­fly that can breed in gar­den ponds, and will visit gar­dens with­out ponds. The adults use their large eyes to spot in­sect prey and hunt it down in flight. The nymphs (im­ma­ture stage dam­sel­flies) live in ponds, where they feed on other aquatic an­i­mals.

Dam­sel­flies pro­mote a healthy bal­ance in gar­dens and gar­den ponds, as they help re­duce the num­ber of other aquatic lar­vae, such as mos­qui­toes.

Adults will also prey on what may be con­sid­ered nui­sance in­sects.

5. Hornet-mimic hov­er­fly (Volu­cella zonaria)

A pol­li­na­tor and fly, the UK’s largest hov­er­fly mim­ics the Euro­pean hornet to avoid be­ing eaten. It is more than 1.5cm-long, has no st­ing and can be found vis­it­ing flow­ers dur­ing the sum­mer. The 2cm-long lar­vae (mag­gots) feed on waste at the bottom of so­cial wasp nests.

MAK­ING A BUZZ: A hornet-mimic hov­er­fly vis­its flow­ers in sum­mer

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