Antlions And Tiger Beetles And Waterbears, Oh My!

Your yard is a miniature jungle with predatory insects searching for prey.  A child will often notice predatory insects and spend hours watching them hunt.  Ladybird beetles, spiders, dragonflies and praying mantises are just a few of the cool bugs that kids like to watch.

The larva of the antlion is called a doodlebug.  This quarter inch larva, that looks like Jaba the Hut with long pinchers for mouthparts, digs a three-inch wide, cone shaped pit in loose sand.  These are found under eaves and other dry sandy places.  Ants and other insects that start across this trap slide down the cone to the center and are met by this star wars-like creature. 

Tiger beetles are shiny green or black with long legs and a half-inch body.  They are found on dirt roads and on the beach.  You may notice them running just ahead of you.   The larva lives in a vertical tube in the ground and catches passing prey.  The adult runs down small insects.  Robber flies, which are the same size as the tiger beetle, yet gray and hunch-backed, also fly ahead of you. They feed on deer and horse flies, so consider them to be your best friends.

Water Bears” are one-millimeter sized scorpion relatives that live in moss and other wet environments.  They look like bears and eat algae and tiny creatures by first stabbing them with their walrus-like tusks.  Put a drop of water from a patch of wet moss on a microscope slide for a real safari of weird creatures.

If you have aphids on your roses, take a close look and you may see several predators controlling them for you.  Orange and black lady beetle larva, green syrphid fly maggots, and lace wing larva are usually seen feeding among their aphid prey.  The brown groups of aphids are ones that were parasitized by tiny braconid wasps and are now empty shells.

By providing areas in your yard planted with native trees, shrubs and wildflowers, you can support a thriving population of predatory insects. You can then reduce or stop using pesticides.  If you start spraying pesticides again you may have to continue spot treatments, were pests erupt, until a balance of predators and prey are achieved again.