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Distinguishing Between Good bugs and Bad Bugs

When you are new to gardening, it can be difficult to tell if an insect is a friend or foe. Distinguishing between good bugs and bad bugs often comes down to memorizing a few important differences between insect look-alikes.

Subtle Differences

While some insects are easy to identify, others can be more tricky. Here are a few insects that can easily be mistaken for each other:

Ladybugs and Cucumber Beetles




Top: Cucumber Beetle (source)
Bottom: Ladybug (source)

Ladybugs are perfectly round in shades of orange and red, some with dots, some without. Similar beetles, called cucumber beetles, are sometimes mistaken for friendly ladybugs because they are also spotted beetles. Cucumbers are spotted or striped, and have an elongated body. Because both insects can be similar in color, look at the shape of the body when trying to determine what kind of bug you have. While ladybugs are excellent at keeping aphids away, cucumber beetles actually do damage to plant leaves and fruit.




Butterflies and Cabbage Whites



Top: Cabbage White (source)
Bottom:  Karner Blue Butterfly (source)

There are many types of butterflies that you should be happy to see in the garden, but if you see something that looks like a small white butterfly with one (male) or two spots (female) circling any brassicas (kale, cabbages, broccoli, etc.), this is a cabbage white, a.k.a. cabbage moth or cabbage butterfly. These butterflies lay their eggs on the leaves of their host plant which includes varieties from the brassica family: cabbage, mustard, kale, cabbage, etc. Naturally, only the females lay eggs.

Some butterflies like the Karner Blue butterfly pictured above are endangered and should be protected. Be sure that the insect you are removing from the garden is truly a pest.
 

Bees and Wasps


Top: Wasp (source)
Bottom:  Bee (source)

They both sting when agitated, but bees tend to be pretty passive while wasps are much more aggressive. In all my years of gardening, I’ve never been stung by a bee. I work around them all the time, often harvesting fruits in the morning while they are the most active collecting nectar. Wasps, on the other hand, will chase and sting. Naturally, you want to respect the coexistence of bees in the garden and give them the space they need to do their work. When working near bees take slow, steady movements. If there is a wasp in your way, just come back later -- there is no reason to risk a sting from an aggressive insect. Keep the bees, we need them as valuable pollinators, but steer clear of wasps and their nests.

There are a few subtle differences between bees and wasps. Bees have a fuzzy body and legs for collecting pollen, while wasps tend to be shiny and smooth. Bees also have a thicker body, but wasps have a more narrow body. Both bees and wasps have four wings.


Distinguishing between good bugs and bad bugs in the garden can be a challenge, but the best thing you can do is spend time in the garden observing closely. Take the time to really look carefully at the critters you see. To learn more about the good guys and bad guys in the garden, follow my Garden Insects: Good vs. Bad Pinterest page.


What is your favorite insect?
 

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