Beneficial Insect vs. Harmful Pest: Know The Difference

  • Written by: Killingsworth Environmental
  • August 16, 2019

How To Identify Beneficial and Harmful Insects In Your Lawn

When you find an insect that resembles a pest in your lawn or garden, what’s your first instinct? Like so many others, you’re initial reaction is probably to kill it. After all, bugs in your lawn or garden are bad right? Well, not always!

While it may be hard to believe, 97 percent of insects are beneficial to us and to the environment. Unfortunately, these beneficial insects, or beneficials, are commonly mistaken for harmful pests and pay the price for it. While there are plenty of harmful pests out there too, we wanted to use this blog to educate you on the difference between beneficial and harmful insects. That way, the next time you spot an insect in your lawn or garden, you think twice before killing it! 

You’ll learn:

  • What a beneficial insect is
  • The difference between beneficial and harmful insects
  • How to identify insects in your lawn and garden
  • How to protect your lawn and garden from harmful pests

What Makes An Insect Beneficial?

So what exactly is a beneficial insect? Beneficial insects perform vital functions of the environment through:

  • Pollination
  • Soil aeration
  • Breaking down dead materials and waste
  • Feeding wildlife
  • Devouring harmful insects
  • Producing products that benefit humans such as honey and silk

In our lawns and gardens, these insects help protect our yards from harmful insects, pollinate our plants and even assist in aerating our soil. Keeping beneficial insects in your lawn and garden is an important part of improving your lawn and the environment. Which is exactly why you should take caution before killing one of these insects! 

Now that you know what makes an insect beneficial, let’s discuss the key differences between beneficial and harmful insects. 

The Difference Between Beneficial and Harmful Insects

While beneficial insects are pollinating our plants and aerating our soil, harmful insects are hard at work eating and killing our plants, destroying our lawns and invading our homes. 

To better understand the difference between beneficial and harmful insects, let’s get to know some of the insects that may be in your lawn or garden. 

Beneficial Insects 

There are two main types of beneficial insects: predators and parasitoids. Predators feed on pests and help eliminate them from your lawn. Typically their larvae are even hungrier! Parasitoids are smaller than the host pests that they feed on. These beneficials will lay their eggs on, in or near harmful pests. Once the larvae hatches, it feeds on the pest, sometimes even eating them from the inside out. 

Some common beneficial insects are:

Ladybugs. Ladybugs are predatory bugs that eat aphids. 

Butterflies. Butterflies help pollinate flowers. 

Honeybees. Honeybees are one of the greatest pollinators in our environment. In fact, they pollinate around $15 billion in crops every year in the U.S. 

Aphid Midge. As its name suggests, an aphid midge is a predatory insect that eats aphids

Green Lacewing. This predatory insect also eats aphids, caterpillars, scale and whiteflies

Minute Pirate Bug. Minute pirate bugs have no preference when it comes to harmful pests—they’ll eat whichever one they can find!

Harmful Pests

As we mentioned earlier, 97 percent of insects are either beneficial or benign. This leaves a mere three percent of insects that are detrimental to the environment and our lawns. 

Here are a few common harmful pests:

Tomato Hornworm. The tomato hornworm defoliates plants in the tomato family and destroys plants in the potato family. 

Japanese Beetle. Japanese beetles devour just about any plant it finds!

Stink Bug. As if the smell isn’t bad enough, stink bugs also feed on fruits and vegetables. 

Wasps. Unlike honeybees, wasps are much less likely to pollinate the environment. Plus, their painful stings can be life-threatening for those with severe allergies. 

Aphids. Aphids suck the nutrients out of plants and create a “honeydew” substance that is known to attract ants

Termites. Termites can not only destroy your yard and feed on wet mulch, but they can also use your garden as a gateway into the walls of your home. 

Mosquitoes. These bloodsuckers are the deadliest animal in the world, being known vectors of Malaria, yellow fever and other life-threatening diseases. 

4 Ways To Identify Beneficial and Harmful Insects In Your Lawn

While some pests may have a more obvious look, comparing beetles to beetles may get a little confusing. To help you determine which is which, take a look at these steps to identifying the insects in your lawn:

1. Educate

The first step is educating yourself on the insects that are most common in your area. Familiarize yourself with the appearance of beneficials and pests—but don’t stop there! The larvae of these insects typically look completely different than adult insects. 

For example, ladybug larvae are small, black and yellow, spiny insects. At a glance, you might think these are harmful insects and attempt to remove them from your lawn or garden. This would be the worst thing you could do though! Ladybug larvae, like many other beneficial larvae, eat significantly more pests than adult insects. 

So, get to know the larvae too! Learn what they look like, where they’re likely to live and what they eat. 

2. Observe

Next, observe the insects living in your lawn and garden. What do they look like? What are they doing? Is there one, or are there multiple? Multiple insects may indicate an infestation, so it’s important to note how many insects are present. 

3. Identify

After observing insects, and educating yourself on the appearance of beneficials and pests, you should be able to identify the insects around your home. 

From there, you’ll be able to find the best way for controlling the insect population, or take the next steps to eradicate pests from your lawn. 

Here at Killingsworth, we believe in organic pest control. If you identify pests in your lawn, garden, or home, check out these organic pest control tips from our experts. 

4. Contact

If you are unable to identify the insects in your lawn, contact your local pest professional. They will be able to identify if the insect is a beneficial or a pest and recommend next steps if necessary. We suggest taking a photo of the insect in question so that your pest expert knows exactly what you’re dealing with.

How To Protect Your Lawn and Garden from Harmful Pests

If you or your pest professional has identified pests in your garden, what you decide to do next is extremely important. You may try to treat pests on your own, and if that’s the case we have plenty of resources to help you do so! For DIY pest treatment, check out these blogs:

However, the best thing you can to eliminate pests from your garden and lawn is to hire a pest control expert. At Killingsworth, pest control is one of our many specialities. Identifying pests from beneficials is what we do! We’ll help you eliminate pests from around your home and protect your lawn from future pest invasions, while protecting any existing beneficials. 

To learn how we do it, download our guide, The Killingsworth Way! You’ll learn all about our unique approach to wildlife and pest control. Access it by clicking the button below!

DOWNLOAD OUR GUIDE TO PEST CONTROL

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