"Good Bugs” vs.“Bad Bugs" . . .A
Betty Gray (MG ’06)
We need to learn to value insects and other
beneficials for the vital roles they play in keeping our gardens healthy.
Learn to recognize the good guys because they are essential allies in
keeping the bad guys in check. Work with them in creating a well-balanced
Is a “good” insect always a “good” insect? To be precise and concise, the
answer is “No.”
Is a “bad” insect always a “bad” insect? The answer to
that question is also “No.”
Let me clarify. In the world of nature, an insect is neither good nor
bad. Each one is considered to have an essential role in maintaining a
balanced, healthy ecosystem. Maintaining a balance seems to be one of
nature’s primary objective.
Introduce the human perspective and the whole picture
changes. Since our goals are somewhat different, we typically define an
insect as “good” or “bad” according to whether or not that insect assists us
in meeting our goals.
Most of us have been taught to respect the praying mantis
family as beneficial because it preys on a variety of garden pests.
Actually, the praying mantis will eat anything that it can catch that
doesn’t harm or eat it first. Its menu can and does include other beneficial
insects. It even eats other members of its own family if given an
opportunity! The praying mantis isn't the only beneficial that be cannibalistic.
will devour their siblings on occasion, and even our revered milkweed
assassin bug (photographed by the Master Gardener Photography Team) can find
itself on the business end of another milkweed assassin bug’s deadly beak
Even the lady beetle family, most of whose members happen
to prey on things humans classify as pests, has a few “bad” members. Consider
the Mexican bean beetle. It can wreak havoc on the leaves of bean plants
and, consequently, have an adverse effect on yields.
What about those insects most gardeners consider pests .
. . the “Bad Bugs”? Avid butterfly gardeners are delighted to see
larvae of the beautiful giant swallowtail butterfly on a Meyer lemon tree.
In contrast, an avid citrus grower would probably scramble for his favorite
pest control agent if he encountered the same larvae (known as orange dog
An assassin bug, usually a horticulturist’s
best friend, is not likely to see a “Welcome . . . My Garden Is Your Garden”
sign in a butterfly gardener's garden. Why? Because assassin bugs are
effective predators of caterpillars and a butterfly gardener wants
caterpillars to eat plants so everyone can enjoy the beauty of butterflies!
One last poignant perspective. Is a honey bee a "good"
insect or a "bad" insect? The likely response is that the honey bee is a
good insect because it provides honey and pollinates our plants. But if a
honey bee stings you . . . then is it a good bug or is then a bad bug?
Whether or not an insect benefits or harms mankind is
quite incidental to its main business, which is to ensure its own survival
and that of its species. Truly, an insect’s “goodness” or “badness” is in
the eye of its human beholder!