This aptly-named, vicious-looking bug is about 1/4 to one inch long, with a cone-shaped head and wide curving beak. They may cause a painful bite to a human if captured. Some species squeak if caught. Females lay single eggs in cracks, under rocks or in other sheltered spots in summer, and new adults emerge around the following June. There is only one generation per year.
Assassin bugs are voracious predators of many garden pests including flies, mosquitoes, beetles and large caterpillars.
Adult and nymph assassin bugs stab their prey with long, pointed "beaks" that are held folded under their bodies while not feeding.
A related family of smaller predatory insects that wait for their prey on flowers are called ambush bugs.
These insects resemble a yellow jacket but are larger, up to 3/4 inch in length. They are mostly black, with a white face and white markings on the tip of the abdomen. They build large paper nests that can measure up to 14 inches in diameter and 24 inches long!
They eat many pests including crane flies and other flies. They also eat yellow jackets. They may also act as pollinators of some plants.
If the nest is disturbed, these hornets will sting humans.
Often called "insect hawks" because they pounce upon pests.
Large and lumbering, black and yellow bumble bees measure up to one inch in length. These fuzzy insects make a loud droning buzz as they fly somewhat awkwardly from flower to flower. Bumble bees nest in soil or leaf litter where a single queen lays 8 to 12 eggs in spring and continues to lay eggs through the summer.
Emerging workers are able to fly in very cool weather, making them a very valuable pollinator of a variety of plants.
As these bees nest in soil and leaf litter, try to leave a section of your yard undisturbed. A little "wild" place in your yard can offer a haven for many other beneficial insects that would otherwise be killed by tilling and mowing. Provide native flowers, as they are a primary food source.
There may be as many as 40 species of bumble bee in the Western U.S.
This long (1/2 to three inches) many-legged creature is light brown to black in color and moves quickly. Centipedes have only one pair of legs per segment. Millipedes, which are important in compost decay, have two pairs per segment. Both prefer moist areas in the garden and compost piles.
Centipedes prey on pests and insects in the soil including slugs, worms and fly pupae. Centipedes kill their prey with venom, and their bite is moderately painful (although not dangerous) to humans.
As with ground beetles, low-till gardening can maintain the populations of centipedes.
There are more than 80 species in Washington. They can be identified by their long narrow body, their large compound eyes and the four transparent wings. There is variation in color. Sizes range from one to two inches. The larvae are found in water.
They eat mosquitoes, aphids and other pest bugs.
Dragonflies and damselflies have decreased considerably in abundance as the wetland areas where they live have dramatically decreased. Want dragonflies? Don't fill in that marshy area. Better yet, enlarge it, or dig your own pond.
Adult green lacewings have delicate, light green bodies; large clear wings; and bright golden or copper colored eyes. They are 1/2 to 3/4 inch long. The larvae are small, grayish brown, and narrow and they have pincerlike mandibles. Eggs are found on plant stems and foliage; they are laid singly or in small groups on top of fine, silken stalks.
Lacewing larvae and adults feed voraciously upon aphids and other small insects, insect eggs, and spider mites. They also eat leafhopper nymphs, whiteflies and small caterpillars.
Plant flowers that produce pollen and nectar. Adults are mobile, but lay eggs where they stop to eat.
Success with lacewing eggs or larvae may require practice. Hold eggs at room temperature until the larvae begin hatching, then sprinkle them on plants (about one to five per square foot of garden space).
While shapes and colors may vary widely, they are usually shiny. Some are very ferocious-looking, but they are not known to bite people. Black is a common color, sometimes with a metallic sheen of another color on their wing covers. Most ground beetles feed at night and hide in the soil or under debris during the day. Adult beetles range from 1/8 to one inch long.
These very common garden insects feed on many soil-inhabiting pests such as cutworms and root maggots. Some types eat slugs and snails.
You probably don't need to attract these common beetles. Unless it's discouraged with pesticides, the species that is right for your garden will find you. Low-till gardening techniques can save the lives of many soil-dwelling ground beetles. Objects to hide under, such as logs, boards or flat stones, will help keep ground beetles in your garden.
Adults measure 2/3 inch long and are fuzzy, with gold-and-black striped bodies and transparent wings. Honey bees can often be identified by the balls of yellow pollen they carry on the backs of their legs.
Honeybees are important pollinators of many plants.
Grow flowering plants. Encourage wild honey bees. Because the spread of mites has seriously reduced honey bee populations, the wild honey bees that are left are even more important.
Pollinators are estimated to be worth $8 billion to our economy! Many other insects are pollinators as well.
The adults have bodies with black and yellow stripes. While they look like bees or wasps, they don't sting. They range in size from less than ¼ inch to ½ inch.
Although not all are directly beneficial, many hover fly larvae prey on aphids, mealybugs and other small insects. Adults must feed on nectar before they reproduce, so are good pollinators.
These flies are called "hover flies" because they hang in one spot like a helicopter when they fly.
Most people know an adult lady beetle (lady bug), but the larvae are most valuable. The larva is soft-bodied and alligator-shaped with black and orange markings. Each species has a distinct pattern.
Both larvae and adults feed on soft-bodied insects such as aphids, mealybugs, scale insects and spider mites as well as insect eggs.
Plant flowers that produce pollen and nectar (dill, angelica). Allowing weeds (dandelion, wild carrot, yarrow) can help too. You could also spray a combination of whey and yeast on plants as a food source.
We don't recommend buying lady beetles for pest control: most often they won't stay in your garden when released. The best thing is to attract lady beetles, or other insect predators, to your yard.
Slightly smaller than a honeybee, these gentle, non-aggressive insects resemble house flies more than honey bees. They are deep blue-black in color and have no stripes.
Mason bees pollinate apples, cherries and other tree fruit. They are active between apple blossom and cherry blossom season, then die out by summer.
Provide them a home. Drill holes 1/4 to 3/8 inch in diameter and 3 to 6 inches deep into wooden boards or blocks. Attach boards to a house or post near where you have seen the bees. Some protection from rain is a good idea. Position boards facing morning sun. Place homes by early spring, preferably by April 1.
Too small to be noticeable, these miniwasps don't sting people or pets. They range in size from the smallest insect known (about 1/50 inch) to about one inch, although most are on the small side. These parasites reproduce by laying their eggs in a pest host (adult or egg). The immature wasp feeds inside and kills its host. A round hole can be often seen where the adult parasite has chewed its way out.
Different species may attack aphids, whiteflies, and butterflies or moths, such as cabbage loopers and hornworms.
You need to have some of the prey around to be able to sustain populations of the parasite.
Many are available for sale to home gardeners. Examples are Encarsia formosa, which attacks greenhouse white flies, and Trichogramma species, which attack many caterpillar pests.
Adult mites are tiny, about half a millimeter in length, and are beige to reddish tan. They resemble pest mites but are faster moving and have fewer hairs.
Predatory mites are valuable predators of pest mites such as spider mites.
There is no great way to attract mites. Since you probably already have some, don't discourage them with pesticides.
Predatory mites naturally occur in large numbers in the Northwest. Since you probably already have mites in your garden, it may not make sense to buy new ones for outdoor use. However, they may be useful for greenhouses and indoor plants. They are especially effective against spider mites. You can purchase predatory mites at many garden stores.
These fascinating insects may resemble a tiny scorpion when they hold the tip of their abdomen up in the air. They are fast moving and measure 1/10 to one inch long.
Depending upon species, rove beetles prey upon aphids, springtails, mites, nematodes, slugs, snails, fly eggs and maggots. They also eat and help break down decaying organic material.
Create a "wild" area of your yard where leaves are allowed to pile up,the grass isn't mowed, and the soil isn't tilled. This can give these and many other insects a haven.
Rove beetles are often seen hanging around dead animals but they're not scavengers. They're actually waiting for their prey, such as flies and maggots.
Approximately 1/2 inch in length, the adult soldier beetle has a narrow, black abdomen and bright red head or thorax. The soldier beetle larva is various shades of orange with black markings.
Soldier beetles prey upon aphids, caterpillars, grasshopper eggs and beetle larvae, among other insects around the garden.
Since some soldier beetles feed on nectar, you may be able to attract them with flowering plants.
Soldier beetles are nicknamed leatherwings because of their soft, clothlike wing covers.
Spiders aren't insects at all. They can be identified by their eight legs and two-part body. Although there are hundreds of species of spider in Washington, they all share this trait. Spiders are far more beneficial than they are dangerous. Most spiders are shy and harmless to humans.
Spiders are the most important predators on insects, killing more than all other predators combined. They feed on a broad variety of pest insects year-round.
You probably already have an abundance of spiders. You can provide spider habitat by covering bare dirt with mulch, creating a "wild" area in your yard, planting dense shrubs and coniferous trees, and providing a water source such as a pond.
If you are concerned about spiders in your home, sealing off your living space from the crawlspace, garage, floor voids and unfrequented storage space will help. House spiders and outdoor spiders are not the same species.
Resembling house flies, tachinid flies are 1/3 to 1/2 inch in length and may be brown, gray or black in color. Some species are very hairy.
There are many species of tachinid flies; many are parasites of pest caterpillars including cutworms, codling moths, tent caterpillars, cabbage loopers and gypsy moth larvae.
Adults feed on nectar, so plant flowers as well as herbs in the Umbelliferae family such as dill, parsley and Queen Anne's Lace.
Adult wasps are 1/2 to 3/4 inch long, with characteristic yellow and black stripes and transparent wings.
Yellow jackets and other wasps are predators of caterpillars, flies and beetle grubs.
Yellow jackets are often feared for their sting, which is a hazard to people who are allergic. Some yellow jacket species are more likely to sting and scavenge at picnics than others. The scent of pears is a sting signal for yellow jackets.
Think about that nest in your yard: Does it really have to go? If the yellow jackets are not interfering with the lives of people in the area, leave the nest alone and get great pest-control and pollination benefits.
To occupy yellow jackets during a picnic, place raw meat or a fish head away from the picnic (over a bucket of soapy water).
**NOTE: Many insects have a different form when they are young. These younger bugs are also beneficial to your garden. For example, lady beetle larvae (young lady beetle) are thought to eat more aphids than their adult lady beetles.