What Are Predatory Wasps: Information On Useful Wasps That Are Predatory

By: Jackie Carroll

You might think that the last thing you want in your garden is wasps, but some wasps are beneficial insects, pollinating garden flowers and helping in the fight against pests that damage garden plants. There are several different types of wasps that are predatory. Predatory wasps collect insects by the dozens to provision their nests or they use harmful insects as hatcheries for their young.

What are Predatory Wasps?

Although there are many different types of predatory wasps, most of them have a few things in common. They are generally 1/4-inch (0.5 cm.) or so in length and capable of delivering a painful sting. They vary in appearance, but most of them have bright yellow or orange bands of color. The flashy colors act as a warning to any animal that may want to eat them. All predatory wasps have four wings and a skinny, thread-like waist that connects the thorax to the abdomen. You may encounter some of these predatory wasps in gardens:

  • Braconids are small predatory wasps that measure less than one-quarter inch (0.5 cm.) in length. Adults like small flowers with open centers that contain nectar. They sting their prey and lay eggs inside the prey’s body. Braconids are very important predator wasps for the control of caterpillars.
  • Ichneumonids are a little larger than braconids. They make their cocoons under the skin of their prey, usually caterpillars or beetle larvae.
  • Tiphiids and scoliids are larger than predator wasps. They resemble carpenter ants with wings. Females can deliver a mild sting. The females burrow into the ground and lay their eggs inside beetle larvae. They are important in the control of Japanese beetles and June bugs.
  • Trichogrammatids, scelionids, and mymarids are no bigger than the period at the end of this sentence. They help control caterpillars such as cabbage loopers and cabbageworms.
  • Eulophids are medium-sized parasitic wasps that are usually metallic green or blue in color. Some types help control Colorado potato beetles by parasitizing their eggs, while others parasitize the adult insects. Unfortunately, they sometimes parasitize other parasitic insects.
  • Pteromalids are less than one-eighth inch (0.5 cm.) long and solid black with distinctive red eyes. Female pteromalids parasitize pupating caterpillars and beetle larvae by laying eggs inside them.

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Read more about Beneficial Garden Friends

Beneficial Insects for Gardens and Yards: How to Spot and Attract Them

By Erin Marissa Russell

Ready to find out how to get beneficial insects to fly by your garden—and learn to identify them on sight? This guide explains why some insects are more welcome than others in the garden. We’ll teach you what to do to bring in the insects that will help your garden flourish. And once you’re done reading, you’ll be able to tell bad bugs and beneficial bugs apart as well as learning to identify them by sight.

Assassin Bugs

The small assassin bug can put a big dent in the pest population of your garden. These bugs live more than one season and eat leafhoppers, beetles, and caterpillars. Assassin bugs are black, brown, or red, measure up at under an inch long, and can be spotted by their narrow heads with beady eyes and needle-like beaks with three sections. Their front legs are large for grappling with prey. Their eggs are laid in distinctive “raft” formations, in batches of 10 to 25 or even more, and are protectively coated in a sticky substance.

Damsel Bugs

Damsel bugs eat lots of garden troublemakers: soft-bodied insects, aphids, leafhoppers, caterpillars, thrips, mites, and spider mites. Damsel bugs grow up to half an inch long. You’ll see them come out of hibernation in April or May, and they’re visible outdoors until the fall. Damsel bugs most commonly come in shades of yellow, gray, or brown. They are thin-bodied insects with long heads and antennae and enlarged front legs with which they clasp their prey.

Ground Beetles

There are many varieties of ground beetles, but most come in dark shades and feature prominent eyes and thin, thread-like antennae. All live on the ground, and they range in size from an eighth of an inch to one inch long. They eat ants, cutworms, earthworms, maggots, slugs, and other beetles. You won’t see these often, as most ground beetles are nocturnal.


Hoverflies look more like wasps than flies. They have the striped body of a wasp, in bands of yellow and black. They even imitate the behavior of wasps—except that wasps seldom hover. Gardens depend on hoverflies for pollination, and in their larval stages, they feed heavily on aphids, mites, thrips, and other small garden pests.


Ladybugs, also called lady beetles, are among the most recognizable insects in the garden. They’re known for their red hue and black markings, but mite-eating and Scymnus ladybugs are shiny black. Other colors may include orange, pink, or yellow, and not all ladybugs have spots. Immature ladybugs have elongated black bodies with yellow-orange markings. Seeing ladybugs in the garden is a sign that the system is healthy and functioning well. They eat aphids, spider mites, and scale insects.


Lacewings are known for their thin, pale green bodies and delicate, lacy clear wings. However, similar-looking insects that are smaller and brown are another variety of lacewing. The larva, called aphid lions, hatch from eggs laid singly on top of a long stalk. They eat aphids, small beetles, and caterpillars.

Pirate Bugs

Pirate bugs will curtail the population of spider mites, rust mites, aphids, leafhoppers, mealybugs, and thrips. They’re oval in shape and tiny—one twelfth to one fifth of an inch long. Pirate bugs come in black or shades of purple and have white markings. They appear in March or April, persisting through summer. Young ones and adults alike can eat up to 30 or 40 mites and aphids each day.

Praying Mantis

A praying mantis in your garden is a stealthy predator that will set up shop and take out insects that can cause trouble. However, these guys eat a little of everything, so they are prone to making dinner of other beneficial insects, like bees and other pollinators. At between one and four inches long, they’re some of the largest insects you’ll see. Look for them between midsummer and the middle of autumn. You’ll also know them by their pale green color, triangular head, and long, jointed legs that fold into the “praying hands” pose they’re named for.

Predatory Mites

Predatory mites often go unseen due to their tiny size of just one fiftieth of an inch. They are larger, rounder, and faster than the mites that are their prey. They eat the mites that can plague your garden, including spider mites, as well as thrips and insect eggs. Provide good hiding places for predatory mites to increase their presence in the garden. They conceal themselves on the undersides of plant leaves that have hairs, chambers, or pits.


Spiders generally fall into three hunting categories: ambushers that lay in wait for their prey, active hunters that chase other insects, and spinners that create webs to catch their victims. All varieties of spiders eat pest insects, such as aphids, beetles, caterpillars, and leafhoppers.

Stink Bugs

If you ever handled a stink bug as a child, you know why they got their stinky name. Some species of stink bug make a meal out of other garden insects. Although even predatory stink bugs are known to take a bite out of a plant now and then, they won’t eat enough of your plants to damage them. That said, the types of stink bugs that are not predatory can damage your garden, so be sure to positively identify which type you’re dealing with before you decide whether to let them be or kick them out. Gardeners in the Pacific Northwest may have heard that there are no harmful stink bugs near them, but this has changed with the appearance of the marmorated Asian stink bug. Types of stink bug vary by region, so do a search for stink bugs in your area to compare and contrast.

Tachinid Flies

These gardener allies look like oversized black houseflies, but they make short work out of caterpillars in the garden. They lay their eggs on the caterpillars, and when they hatch, they burrow inside the caterpillars’ bodies. There, they consume the caterpillars’ organs, eventually killing the caterpillar when the tachinid fly emerges to pupate.

Wasps and Hornets

Though we often run the other direction if we see a wasp or hornet in the garden, in reality they’re beneficial bugs. They’re known for searching through plants to find caterpillars, dispatching them, and transporting them to their nests to feed the baby wasps. The exception is yellowjackets, whose aggressive behavior makes them more risky than helpful. In the Pacific Northwest, the European paper wasp is a non-native species that is another aggressive type. It will be obvious if one of these wasps is in your yard by their behavior. Remove the nests of European paper wasps from the garden to discourage them from setting up shop in your yard. Their territorial, assertive tendencies make them a stinging risk to both people and pets if their nest is nearby. Yellowjacket nests may be underground or inside the walls of a structure, and professional help will be needed to remove them.

To Attract Beneficial Insects

There’s a lot that gardeners can do to make their yard a more comfortable and inviting place for these beneficial insects.

  • Cut down on chemical insecticides. Simply narrowing the spectrum and using these less frequently will have an effect on your beneficial bug population, but the smaller the amount of chemical pesticides you use, the bigger the benefits you’ll see.
  • Avoid bug zappers that use light to lure in mosquitoes and electricity to kill them. These actually kill more beneficial bugs than pests.
  • Plant shrubs, bushes, or gardens instead of cultivating wide expanses of lawn. In addition to providing pollen and nectar, these plants also provide hiding places and habitats that lawns simply don’t. Leaving some leaves and plant debris scattered underneath bushes goes even farther to make beneficial insects comfortable.
  • Focus on growing native plants to have the maximum effect on your insect allies. Leave some of the native plants undisturbed in the garden over fall and winter to give beneficial insects a space to overwinter.
  • Aside from native plants, you can grow these varieties, which beneficial insects prefer: basket-of-gold, chamomile, coriander, dill, edging lobelia, European goldenrod, fennel, lavender, masterwort, moon carrot, sedum, sweet alyssum, veronica, and yarrow.
  • Plan your garden so plants go into bloom in succession so you’re providing pollen and nectar all season long.
  • It’s more effective to attract your local beneficial insects and convince them to make your garden their habitat than it is to bring in purchased predators, such as ladybugs or praying mantises. Purchased bugs tend to keep moving once released, even if prey and pollen are widely available, and they may not be from your area, so the local conditions may be harmful to them.

When it comes to insects, it’s vital that gardeners know which ones are friends and which ones are foes. After all, you’ll want to know for sure whether the bugs you see are signs of an impending infestation or simply pollinators making their rounds of the neighborhood. Not only that——you’ll know exactly how to reel in those beneficial bugs, making yours the smartest garden on the block.

Green Lacewings

Whitney Cranshaw / Bugwood.org

" data-caption="The offspring larvae of the green lacewing can feast on about 200 aphids a week" data-expand="300" data-tracking-container="true" />

Whitney Cranshaw / Bugwood.org

Most of the beautiful adult lacewings feed on pollen, nectar, and honeydew. Green lacewing larvae, however, are voracious predators. Nicknamed "aphid lions," the larvae do an impressive job of devouring aphids by the dozens. Larvae hunt for soft-bodied prey, using their curved, pointed mandibles to stab their victims.

To help beneficial insects, make them welcome in your garden – here’s how

As winter phases into spring across the U.S., gardeners are laying in supplies and making plans. Meanwhile, as the weather warms, common garden insects such as bees, beetles and butterflies will emerge from underground burrows or nests within or on plants. Most gardeners know how beneficial insects can be for their plots. Flies pollinate flowers. Predatory bugs, such as the spined shoulder bug, eat pest insects that otherwise would tuck into garden plants.

As a scientist whose research involves insects and as a gardener, I know that many beneficial insect species are declining and need humans’ help. If you’re a gardener looking for a new challenge this year, consider revamping all or part of your yard to support beneficial insects.

The Xerces Society for Insect Conservation publishes a guide to establishing meadows to sustain insects. Local university extension offices post tips on growing meadows with specific instructions and resources for their areas. Gardening stores often have experience and carry selections of local plants.

You may find established communities of enthusiasts for local plants and seeds, or your journey could be the start of such a group. Part of the fun of gardening is learning what plants need to be healthy, and a new endeavor like entoscaping will provide fresh challenges.

In my view, humans all too often see ourselves as separate from nature, which leads us to relegate biodiversity to designated parks. In fact, however, we are an important part of the natural world, and we need insects just as much as they need us. As ecologist Douglas Tallamy argues in his book, “Nature’s Best Hope,” the best way to protect biodiversity is for people to plant native plants and promote conservation in every yard.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Meet the Predators

Learn to recognize the players on your team players, people. Not all of them will be super models — you’ll want to know the difference between friend and foe. You don’t want to accidentally wipe out your own troops! Beneficial insect images are online, in organic gardening books, field guides, and your local master gardener’s office. Depending on the species, many of these predatory insects will double as pollinators in your garden, too. This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means. For more information on local beneficial insects contact your local Cooperative Extension office.

Assassin bug. These predators prove that you don’t have to be good-looking to get the job done right. What they lack in attractiveness they more than make up for in appetite and speed. Favorite meals include Colorado potato beetle, cabbage worms, aphids, tomato hornworms, cucumber beetles, cutworms, Japanese beetle, caterpillars, and more.

Dragonfly by Christian Fischer

Dragonfly and damselfly. Adult dragonflies and damselflies are tenacious predators. As carnivorous grown-ups, they’re both superior hunters-of-the-skies and snatch their prey in mid-air. They’re also one of the fastest insects in the world. As nymphs (young) living in the water, they have insatiable appetites for water insects such as mosquito larva.

Green lacewing. Also called the aphid lion, these predators use a pair of curved mandibles (jaws) to harpoon aphids and suck the life out of them. They also eat other soft-bodied insects such as mites, mealybugs, spider mites, whiteflies, scale, and thrips. The adult lacewing is a pollinator. Their kids are tenacious, too green lacewing larva can eat 60 aphids per hour.

Ground beetle. Pretty shells, large mandibles, and a voracious appetite pretty much describe ground beetles. With a tendency to hide under plant debris in the ground, you may not notice them, but at night you can be sure they’re on the hunt.

“Hoverfly (2518651956)” by allen watkin from London, UK – Hoverfly. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Hoverfly. Also called syrphid flies, the larvae feed on soft-bodied pest insects such as mealybugs, aphids, maggots, and caterpillars. They resemble a little bee and have one pair of wings, yellow-striped bodies, and huge compound eyes.

Ladybug. These assassins cloaked in a red Volkswagon’s clothing will each consume 5,000 aphids by the time they die. Other ladybug prey includes bean thrips, mites, chinch bugs, Colorado potato beetles, and asparagus beetles.

Ladybug larvae. These little dudes are black and orange-red with a prehistoric alligator look. These spiny little creatures aren’t much to look at, but they can eat as many as 50 to 70 aphids a day.

Leather-winged beetle or soldier beetle. These slender guys are long and orange with dark wings. If you’re roses are covered in aphids, the super-hero soldier beetles aren’t far behind! Give them a chance to come to the rescue.

Minute Pirate Bug

Minute pirate bug. They may be tiny but these predators help control small caterpillars, aphids, mites, and thrips. The move lightning fast when they spot a good meal, piercing it with their needle beaks.

Praying Mantis – Mantis Religiosa en Salto El Mono” by Elias Rodriguez Azcarate – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Praying mantis. Although mantids (plural for mantis) are big consumers that don’t always discriminate between good and evil, they certainly eat garden pests. On the other hand, they sometimes grab a good guy or two in the process.

Spider. “Spinnennetzpd”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Spiders. People are often repelled by these eight-legged creatures, but spiders are friends to the garden. After an insect is caught in a spider’s web they’re quickly wrapped up by his host and injected with a venom that liquefies the insect and the spider just sucks him down. They eat more insects in the garden than birds and they help out with pest control year-round.

Spined soldier bug. Another master of the harpoon-attack, spined soldier bugs inject a paralyzing substance into their prey and feast on the juices. Potato beetles, tomato hornworms, caterpillars, saw-fly larva, and cabbage worms end up as this predator’s dinner.

Trichogramma wasp. This wasp doesn’t bite [el] humans. It’s just one in a group of parasitic wasps that lay their eggs inside the larvae of garden pests such as cabbage worms, cutworms, and borers. Once inside, they dine on the internal organs of their host. The aphid ends up mummified as baby wasps spin a cocoon in there, pupate, and finally emerge as an adult wasp.

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Meet the Beneficial Bugs in Your Backyard

Everyone knows their bees from their butterflies, but what about the many other beneficial bugs? It’s likely that you’ve already seen these good guys in your garden, but were not formally introduced. Here are a few you might want to become acquainted with:


Despite their delightful name and appearance, ladybugs are ferocious predators! Before they get their bright red colors, they start out life as larvae (pictured below), cruising around on plants and feasting on aphids. Did you know that a ladybug larva can eat up to 40 aphids an hour?

Ladybug larva

Green Lacewings

Adult green lacewings feed on pollen and nectar, but their larvae, which look like a mix between a slug and an alligator, prey upon soft-bodies garden pests, including caterpillars and aphids.

Adult green lacewing

Praying Mantises

A praying mantis will make short work of any grasshoppers that are troubling you these fierce predators will also hunt many other insect pests that terrorize gardens, including moths, beetles, and flies. Note, however, that praying mantises are ruthless and will turn to eating other beneficials, such as butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds—and even each other!

Praying mantis


Spiders—though technically arachnids rather than insects—are often overlooked as beneficial, but they are very effective pest controllers. Since they are attracted to their prey by movement, they eat many live insects. Jumping spiders and wolf spiders (pictured) are especially good at keeping pests under control.

Wolf spider

Ground Beetles

“Ground beetles” is the name of a large group of predatory beetles that are beneficial as both adults and larvae. They will eat a wide range of insects, including nematodes, caterpillars, thrips, weevils, slugs, and silverfish. While insects like Japanese beetles should be controlled in the garden, be careful not to crush every beetle you see!

Ground beetle

Soldier Beetles

Soldier beetles are an important predator of Mexican bean beetles, Colorado potato beetles, caterpillars, and aphids. Like many beneficials, they are attracted to plants that have compound blossoms.

Red soldier beetles

Assassin Bugs

Assassin bugs look like a strange mix between a praying mantis and a squash bug. They use their sharp mouthparts to prey upon many different types of insect pests in the garden. In their adult form, they can be mistaken for squash bugs, so look carefully!

Assassin bug nymph feasting on prey.

Robber Flies

With their extra-long legs, robber flies are bug-eating machines that we’re thankful to have on our side. They may look intimidating, but unlike horseflies, they do not attack humans (although they are capable of biting when threatened). Instead, they go after a number of common garden pests. Try not to shoo this fly!

Robber fly with prey.


Another good fly to have in your garden, the hoverfly looks like a tiny yellowjacket without a stinger. They feed on pollen and nectar and are extremely important pollinators. Their larvae are voracious predators, killing aphids, caterpillars, beetles, and thrips by sucking the juice from their victims.


Parasitic Wasps

Parasitic wasps are very tiny, so you will probably not see them at work. However, they are very effective.

  • Brachonid wasps lay their eggs on the backs of tomato hornworms and other caterpillars, forming those white cocoons you see on the caterpillar’s back (pictured below). If you see a parasitized caterpillar, don’t kill it. Instead, move it to elsewhere in your garden. The wasp larvae will take care of them for you and turn into more wasps, who will continue to do their good work in your tomato patch.
  • Trichogramma wasps lay their eggs inside the eggs of over 200 different insect pests. The tachinid fly looks like a small housefly but it is an active parasitizer of corn borers, gypsy moth caterpillars, grasshoppers, Japanese beetles, Mexican bean beetles, squash bugs, and green stinkbugs.

Parasitic wasp eggs on a hornworm.

Attracting Beneficial Insects

Like all living creatures, beneficial insects have a basic need for water, food, and shelter. By providing these things, your garden will become an inviting home for them.

A diversity of plants will attract a wide range of insects. Many beneficials appear in the garden before the pests do and need alternative food sources such as pollen and nectar if they are to stick around.

  • Early blooming plants, especially ones with tiny blossoms like alyssum, or biennials such as carrots or parsley that have been left to bloom will help draw beneficials to your yard in the spring.
  • Later, they will be especially attracted to plants with compound blossoms such as yarrow, goldenrod, and Queen Anne’s lace and flowering herbs like lavender, mint, sage, dill, fennel, and lemon balm.

Remember that if you resort to using chemical pesticides to control insects, you will often kill good and bad bugs alike. Even the so-called “natural” pesticides like pyrethrum and rotenone will kill many beneficial insects.

In her book Green Thoughts Eleanor Perenyi writes, “Every insect has a mortal enemy. Cultivate that enemy and he will do your work for you.”

Parasitoids and Predators Work Together

If parasitoids are the first responders, predators are the National Guard.

Under normal circumstances, parasitoids can check surges in pest populations before they get out of hand. Sometimes, environmental extremes (like drought) stress plants, so they're more susceptible to pests, and pest numbers skyrocket.

At this point, the predators move in.

The photo on the left shows two important beneficial garden insects, a ladybug and a soldier beetle, probing the crevices of a tatsoi plant in my window box for aphids.

Natural Garden Pest Control in Action © Steve Masley
Click IMAGES to Enlarge

The photo on the right shows a parasitized aphid (brown sphere) and a live aphid (green sphere on the edge of the leaf). The white flecks on the other leaf are the mouthparts of aphids, all that’s left after the predators come through. Curiously, aphid predators ignore parasitized aphids.

See Attracting Insect Predators for strategies to attract and sustain populations of insect predators and other beneficial garden insects.

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