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Slideshow: Beneficial insects perform important tasks in the environment, including helping to control crop pests.

Tom J. Bechman, Editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer

April 2, 2024

8 Slides

Your neighbor’s policy is “the only good bug is a dead bug.” He sprays everything in sight — in his fields, around his barns, and around his house and yard. Yet your daughter came home from college talking about “Integrated Pest Management.”

Best you can tell, IPM is a philosophy where you scout for insects, identify the pest, and if the pest is present in high enough numbers or doing enough economic damage, you control it. Otherwise, leave the sprayer in the shed and chemicals on the shelf.

Why? Your daughter says it’s because if you spray for the sake of spraying, you will wipe out good insects along with pests. Perhaps she talked to John Obermeyer, Purdue IPM specialist.

“Beneficial insects do a lot of positive things in the field and in the environment,” Obermeyer says. “It’s important to learn how to identify the beneficial ones from pests. Then, do all you can to encourage beneficial insects.”

Protect the good guys

Here are five things you may not know about beneficial insects. Each one could be a reason for considering IPM more carefully.

1. Firefly larvae target slugs. Hate slugs? Firefly larvae consider them a delicacy, Obermeyer says. “Firefly larvae are active when it warms up in the spring,” he says. “They crawl around the soil, under leaf litter and crop residues, seeking food. If slug eggs or juveniles are abundant, they are a target for these larvae.”

2. Beneficial insects reduce potential damage. Can enough firefly larvae in one place tackle slug problems? “Will they in themselves eliminate the threat from slugs?” Obermeyer begins. “Maybe not, but they certainly will reduce potential damage.”

There are no good chemical remedies for slugs once they appear. There are slug baits, but they are expensive and often hit-or-miss on control.

3. Beetles take out soft-bodied pests. Ground beetles and other beetle larvae, like those pictured in the accompanying slideshow, feed on eggs and soft-bodied insects, some of which feed on crops if left unchecked. Obermeyer notes that ground beetle larvae have been known to feed on slugs, armyworms and cutworms.

4. Dung beetles boost soil health. If you have livestock on pasture, dung beetles are likely at work, whether you know it or not. These insects help break down manure. Through their feeding and living habits, they often work into the soil, opening channels for water infiltration.

5. Chemicals contribute to fewer beneficial insects. There are fewer fireflies than 30 years ago, although it varies from area to area because there are different species of fireflies, Obermeyer says. Some are attracted to crop and sod fields, others to woodlands and marshes.

“A decline in insect numbers over time is essentially true for all species, good and bad,” he says. “Habitat destruction is probably the biggest culprit, but indiscriminate use of broad-spectrum insecticides has certainly contributed to lower insect populations, especially for insects tied to planted acres.

“Neonic insecticides, found on treated corn and soybean seed, are very toxic to insects, and they are now found everywhere, even where they weren’t applied.”

About the Author(s)

Tom J. Bechman

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer, Farm Progress

Tom J. Bechman is editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer. He joined Farm Progress in 1981 as a field editor, first writing stories to help farmers adjust to a difficult harvest after a tough weather year. His goal today is the same — writing stories that help farmers adjust to a changing environment in a profitable manner.

Bechman knows about Indiana agriculture because he grew up on a small dairy farm and worked with young farmers as a vocational agriculture teacher and FFA advisor before joining Farm Progress. He works closely with Purdue University specialists, Indiana Farm Bureau and commodity groups to cover cutting-edge issues affecting farmers. He specializes in writing crop stories with a focus on obtaining the highest and most economical yields possible.

Tom and his wife, Carla, have four children: Allison, Ashley, Daniel and Kayla, plus eight grandchildren. They raise produce for the food pantry and house 4-H animals for the grandkids on their small acreage near Franklin, Ind.

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