We learned long ago that caterpillars turn into butterflies. Today we know that some of them turn into moths. Baby grasshoppers and dragonflies? Well, they look like baby grasshoppers and dragonflies. What about the other insects that we may want to visit or want to keep away from our gardens? Some beneficial insects start out as larvae that usually don’t look like what they’ll mature to be.
Since spring is usually about the time larvae start crawling around, it can be helpful to know what the beneficial insects look like when they’re young, just so you don’t accidentally kill a garden helper. On the flip side, you’ll also want to learn to recognize the not-so-hot larvae so you can avoid future crop damage. (We’ll just stick to the good bugs in this lesson.)
- Ladybug larvae look sort of like little alligators. They’re fuzzy-looking and have six legs in front. Their elongated body is mainly black, but marked with red, orange or yellow
- Green lacewing develop into a beautiful light-green insect with lace-like wings, but their larvae is not quite as graceful. These critters are similar in shape to ladybug larvae, but light brown with a curved mouthpart. Keep them around—they eat aphids.
- Tachnid parasites have a nasty name, but they are a good parasite—unless you’re the prey. Before you notice tachnid larvae, you may see swollen or immobile insects around the garden. That’s because tachnid parasites lay their eggs in and on prey, which kills them when the larvae emerge, looking like striped maggots. Although you may want to put the prey bug out of its misery, leave it around so more of the parasites can flourish and keep protecting the garden.
- Syrphid fly larva looks like a little green worm, but it’s actually a maggot since it will develop into a fly. The adults look like bees, minus the buzz.
Before you spray your garden, look around for any of the baby good bugs in larval form. Recognizing beneficial larvae now can save you a whole lot of energy when their prey shows up!