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Slide Show | May 2012

10 Insect Superheroes

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David Cappaert, Michigan State University, Bugwood.org

You might have heard the buzz: Our payback for the warm winter and early spring will be larger-than-usual hordes of mosquitoes, midges, aphids, termites and other bad actors this summer.

The silver lining? There's a bug cavalry of sorts on the way, also courtesy of mild weather: armies of voracious insects that feast on the bad bugs. These "good" bugs will help limit bad-bug infestations of farmers' crops, keep ecosystems in balance and may even save you from an extra bug bite or two.

Here are 10 predator insects that soon will be thwarting the evildoers in fields, orchards, forests, parks, lawns and gardens.


10 Insect Superheroes

Assassin Bugs

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Joseph Berger, Bugwood.org

Aptly named, these insects go after ants and aphids (also known as plant lice). They punch their needle-like mouths into their prey, inject a lethal saliva that dissolves their victims' innards, then kick back for a juicy meal.

Assassin Bugs

Dragonflies

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David Cappaert, Michigan State University, Bugwood.org

Their ability to fly over 50 miles per hour and snatch mosquitoes, midges and other prey out of midair as well as spiders out of their webs gives dragonflies a reputation as the insect world's ultimate aerial killers. They start young, too. Dragonfly larvae feast on mosquito larvae and other small aquatic creatures.

Dragonflies

Pirate Bugs

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Bradley Higbee, Paramount Farming, Bugwood.org

Friends of farmers and gardeners everywhere, these omnivores go after spider mites, corn earworms, caterpillars and leafhoppers. They eat both the eggs and the adult insects. They can be a bit naughty by biting people, though the bites are harmless.

Pirate Bugs

Syrphid Flies

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Steven Katovich, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org

Resembling small bees, and even flying like them, they go after aphids, mealybugs, termites, thrips and leafhoppers. Adult syrphid flies provide good pest control in fields of vegetables, oilseeds and other annual crops. And like bees, they pollinate crops by carrying pollen on their feet as they hunt for pests.

Syrphid Flies

Wolf Spiders

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Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org

Excellent nighttime predators, these spiders (yes, we know they're arachnids, not insects) don't bother building webs. Instead, they run down their prey. They chomp on cotton bollworms in cotton fields. In orchards and elsewhere, they go after caterpillars that later turn into harmful moths.

Wolf Spiders

Lacewings

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Joseph Berger, Bugwood.org

Starting when they're larvae, they devour a slew of harmful crop pests -- spider mites, psyllids, whiteflies, mealybugs and more. The larvae, called "aphid lions," resemble minuscule alligators with pincers like tiny ice tongs. Note that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has identified a pheromone that can attract male and female lacewings from hundreds of yards away. It will soon be available for sale.

Lacewings

Soldier Beetles

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Russ Ottens, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org

Like lacewings, these nocturnal predators are related to lightning bugs but are warriors, not just pretty flashers. They're carnivorous from the time they hatch as larvae in the soil, feeding on cutworms and other insects that farmers don't want around.

Soldier Beetles

Ladybugs

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Russ Ottens, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org

Though they can be a nuisance to humans when they winter in homes and other buildings, they help keep aphids under control in pecan orchards, vineyards and soybean fields. There are more than 5,000 different types of ladybugs worldwide -- nearly 500 varieties in the U.S. alone. They can be bright red, orange, yellow, gray, pink or black.

Ladybugs

Spring Tiphia Wasps

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Johnny N. Dell, Bugwood.org

These guys feast on the grubs of Japanese beetles, those voracious emerald green pests that attack gardens, grapevines and fruit trees. The wasp adults feed on juices from aphids and mealybugs as well as from plants. The females then dig into the ground to lay their eggs on Japanese beetle grubs. Tiphia larvae are stealthy assassins, sneaking up on grubs to kill them.

Spring Tiphia Wasps

Tooth-Necked Fungus Beetle

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Gabriella Zilahi-Balogh, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Bugwood.org

This beetle is a rising star in the Eastern U.S., proving to be a big help in controlling the hemlock wooly adelgid, a sap sucking bug from East Asia that is a scourge of Eastern and Carolina hemlocks.

First observed in Pennsylvania in the 1960s, the sap sucker has weakened and killed trees from Massachusetts to Georgia. The tooth-necked beetle and its nymphs feed on the pest and its larvae. The beetle, one of the few biological controls for the adelgid, is native to the Pacific Northwest and is starting to flourish in many Eastern forests as well.

Tooth-Necked Fungus Beetle

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