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Insect residents

Most insects you'll come across are either harmless or beneficial.  Here are a few that you might find in your garden.

Ladybug larva

Rosarian, spare that bug! Ladybug larvae may look like tiny alligators, but they are one of the major beneficial insects in your garden, eating aphids and mites and other tiny plant pests. They are also, incidentally, susceptible to most 'organic' insecticides that promise to spare beneficials. So are the larval forms of the other beneficials featured on this page.


Now this baby is a lacewing. You think ladybugs are good, you ain't seen nothin' yet. Lacewings, both green and brown, are the major aphid predators in your garden. Wish I had a photo of the larvae. They are similar to the rose slugs, but with 2 long curved sickles in front for catching and impaling aphids.

And yes, that is rose slug damage on the next leaf to the left! I'm betting lacewings eat rose slugs too!

Syrphid fly

This fly comes in many different species and has many common names - syrphid fly, hover fly, flower fly, bee fly. Look at the eyes, they're huge and triangular, where bees have oval eyes that don't fill up the whole head. And the antennae are short and clublike, just like a house fly's, where bees have elbowed antennae. And only 1 pair of wings! All flies have only 1 pair of wings. Bees have two pairs. And the colors are different too, these flies are distinctly yellow like a wasp, where bees are orange. Plus when you see one in action, no bee can hover and dance like a hover fly can. Bees are slow and clumsy compared to hover flies.

Hover flies are important pollinators, and their larvae are major aphid predators. You like hover flies. I promise they don't sting. Flies don't sting!

Carrion beetle

Carrion beetles are common soil-dwelling insects, and as you might guess from the name, they eat carrion - dead mice, dead birds, things like that. We should all be grateful to the cleanup crew.


Wireworms are the larval forms of click beetles. They live in the soil, and some at least bore into roots and tubers and rhizomes. They can be pests of things like irises and potatoes, but for the most part they can be left alone. Click beetles are cute and fun, after all.

Burrowing residents

Burrowing animals may or may not be pests, depending on where exactly they make their burrows and tunnels.  Burrowing animals bring subsoil up to the surface, which returns nutrients washed down by rain.  They also aerate soil and loosen compacted soil, incorporate organic matter by dragging plants to eat into their tunnels, and add nutrients from their own manure.

An earthworm mound.

Earthworm mounds are full of nitrogen and other nutrients. Earthworms are primary decomposers of organic matter - they chew up bits of plant debris so bacteria etc. can break them down. Not native here, but in most gardens.

Thatch ants.

This is a thatch ant mound in a prescribed-burned area, so you can see the mound that has been rebuilt since the fire, and you can see the ant trails that would otherwise be covered by grass and weeds. Thatch ants start rebuilding immediately after any kind of damage, so long as the queen is still alive.

Thatch ant trail.

This is a thatch ant trail through grass. They actually make trails, there's so many of them, and their colonies persist for many years in one place. The nest is partly underground. Ants scavenge for plant bits, seeds etc, to eat. The soil around a mound is very favorable to plant growth, being well aerated and composted.

Vole tunnel.

Voles don't live totally underground but they do tunnel quite a bit. They eat your plants - roots, bark, stems.

Norway (brown) rats are all over the urbanized areas of Thurston County and create tunnels similar to voles. If you live in the city limits or urban growth area, and you see a tunnel like this next to a building foundation, it's probably a rat. They eat fruits, berries, grains, slugs, pet food, bird seed, anything.

Vole tunnels.

A vole tunnel and runways in a prescribed-burned area. These runways would be covered in grass and weeds normally.

A mole hill.

Mole hills tend to be very cone-shaped and volcano-like, since moles push dirt straight up to get it out of their tunnel.

Mole hills.

Probably all one mole. They aren't very social.

Moles don't eat plants, by the way. They eat worms and bugs.

Mountain beaver tunnel.

Mountain beavers are very large, very primitve rodents that live in wooded areas from sea level up to about 3000ft. They sure create a lot of disturbance, and being rodents they eat vegetation but I'm not sure what. Mostly gardeners complain about all the dirt they push up, and the burrows can be a hazard when you step in one.


2008,  The Olympia Rose Society . This page last modified:  Saturday, November 12, 2011