Nine Types of Wild Animals and Insects That Can Help Your Garden Flourish
Looking to natural pesticides or fertilizers may be your first instinct when it comes to keeping pests out of your garden, but it's not your only option. As it turns out, wild animals can actually be of service in that outdoor space. Not only are common animals like birds, frogs, and owls that already make their way to your garden helpful at keeping bugs at bay, but other wild animals (that may seem like pests themselves), such as snakes and bats, are also doing important things for your plants. Here, wildlife and garden experts explain all of the most popular animals out in Mother Nature that can help your garden thrive.
Pamm Cooper, an extension educator at the University of Connecticut Home and Garden Education Center, says birds are beneficial to any garden or landscape for one big reason: pest control. "Insect pests of landscape plants, like caterpillars and sawflies, are eaten by adult birds and their young," she says. "To encourage birds already there or attract other species, use plants that will provide food, shelter and nesting sites. Water can be provided by birdbaths placed near shrubs or trees."
When thinking about wild animals that can help your garden, also consider the bees. "Pollinators ensure pollination of wild and cultivated plants-flowers, trees, fruit shrubs, and vegetables that will provides seeds and fruits for wildlife and people later in the year," notes Cooper. "For native bees, nesting sites, whether in plants, bare soil, holes or other places, may attract species to a property." She shares that if native bees are already on your property, then they likely have a suitable nesting site. A trick to get more bees in your garden? Tracy Rittenhouse, an associate professor at the University of Connecticut Department of Natural Resources and the Environment and the director of the Wildlife and Fisheries Conservation Center, says that she plants native flowers around her yard to attract a diversity of bees.
Toads and Tree Frogs
Keep the bugs at bay at night with the help of toads and tree frogs, as these animals are known to eat most insect species after dusk. "In my gardens and landscapes, I typically find tree frogs almost anywhere during the day, plus I have many toads of all sizes that can help with certain pests like mosquitoes, gnats, and other nuisance insects," says Cooper.
"Syrphid flies and long-legged flies are great at controlling aphids and gnats, respectively, and lacewing larva and lady beetles consume aphids, sawflies, and other soft-bodied insect pests," explains Cooper.
While bats may seem like more of a pest, they can do wonders for a garden. "I love seeing bats flying outside of my house, because their presence tells me that there are native flying insects that the bats are foraging on," says Rittenhouse. "Late July and August is when young bats are learning to catch and eat flying insects." Cooper adds that bats are especially helpful by feeding on moths at night.
As owls are great night hunters of voles, mice, and other rodents, keeping your garden and surrounding yard free of excess lighting will help them seek their prey. "Owls hunt in silence and in the dark. A brightly lit yards means that mice are more likely to see owls coming and can more easily escape," says Gregory A. Smith, Ph.D., associate professor of biological sciences at Kent State University.
Certain Beetles and Bugs
Carabidae beetles, which are omnivorous, eat other arthropods, including slugs, snails, grubs, and wireworms. Additionally, some species feed on weed seeds. "The Eastern-eyed click beetle larvae are unusual in that unlike most click beetles whose larvae are pests, the eyed click beetle larvae are predatory and feed on the larvae of borers," she explains, noting that other bugs can feed on pests in the garden, too. "Anchor bugs, assassin bugs, and predatory stink bugs also feed on other insects, like caterpillars and sawfly larvae." While they go formally by the name fireflies, these lightning bugs are actually beetles that have larvae that feeds on other insect larvae. Plus, they eat snails and slugs that could be taking over your garden. "Some beetles, like flower beetles, visit flowers for pollen and in the process of tramping about, [they] pollinate them," adds Cooper.