Mini Garden Beasties

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 As we prepare our Spring gardens for the lovely blooms and fruits of summer, the students naturally become excited.  Oh, but it’s not only about getting to plant stuff in dirt… just as often it’s about the wonderful BUGS we find in the soil outside!

Earthworms… spiders… aphids… caterpillars… weevils… but ARE these really all BUGS???  The proper scientific answer is NO!  There actually is a definition for “true bugs”.  True bugs have sucking mouthparts, and often feed on the sap of plants… making them a gardener’s enemy #1!  Aphids, scale, mealybugs, water striders, stink bugs, and hoppers are all in the “true bug” order, Hemiptera.

So which mini-beasties in our garden are the helpful ones?  Earthworms are well-known for their ability to aerate the soil (by the tunnels they make) and enrich it with their worm “castings” (poop!). Bees are our most important pollinators. Ladybugs are voracious aphid eaters, so they are very welcome in the garden.  Look for their bright yellow eggs on the underside of leaves and tiny black larvae that almost look like miniature scorpions.  These larvae love aphids too!  Hover flies (looking like small wasps that hover around flowers) are good pollinators and the larvae eat aphids.  Big black ground beetles are beneficial visitors because they eat small grubs, caterpillars and even adult snails and slugs!  Green lacewings are another predatory friend in the garden and their larvae are known as “ant lions”. Centipedes will even eat baby slugs, but watch out, because they will give you a nip too! Spiders are great predators, but approach with caution!

Some creatures can be a nuisance, but may have redeeming qualities.  Although earwigs like to nibble on some of your plants, they also will eat aphids and grubs.  Wasps are rarely greeted positively, but they are important predators of flying insects and they even contribute to pollination.  Woodlice (sowbugs, and pillbugs) actually just eat decaying wood and not your plants.  Millipedes are also important in the clean-up of decaying leaves.

This leaves us with the bone fide “enemies of the garden”.  Our damp “temperate rainforest” is a haven for slugs and snails.  I wish they would stick to cleaning up the forest litter and leave my garden plants alone!  Aphids are another adversary and you can see them being herded and cared for by ants, who will “milk them” like cows! There are many types of grubs (larvae stage of some insects) that munch on roots and leaves, such as cutworms, weevil grubs, European chafer beetles.  Stink bugs, spittlebugs, and whiteflies suck sap from leaves and stems.  What a battle!

Of course, a very favourite time in the classroom is when the class set of Painted Lady Butterfly larvae arrive! What a marvelous learning experience, culminating in two weeks, when we celebrate “Butterfly Freedom Day”!

It was great to see my students, especially those living in apartments, excited to experience  all the tiny creatures we encountered when gardening outside. There’s a lot to see besides the flowers and vegetables! 


Kids Guide to Beneficial Bugs in the Garden

Bug Facts and Worksheets

Insect Identifier

A Bug Lady's Observations: Beneficial and Not!

“mug photos” to identify pests

send in your “mystery bug” photo and have it identified!

Ten Top Beneficial Bugs

"How I Get Rid of It"
Not all bugs are ones we want around... so here are some bug guides
(They note that centipedes are beneficial... in moderation, and not in the house!)
Don't panic... it may NOT be a roach!
How to get rid of a wasp nest without getting stung!


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This page created March 2020, updated April 2021.


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