Predators, Pollinators and Beneficials

If you could count all the insects in a xeric garden, the number would be huge. I’m amazed at the constant low buzz in my xeric garden on a sunny day, as the insects contentedly go about their busy lives.

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Xeric garden insects can be roughly categorized in two departments; They are either predators, or prey.

Predatory Insects…

…includes wasps, dragonflies, robber flies, mantids and any other insect that dines on other insects.

Beneficial insects consume unimaginable numbers of pests in your garden, so welcome them as friendly allies. Spiders fit into this category too, even though they are not insects, but arachnids.

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White Chrysanthemum Spider on a purple crocus…

The sheer numbers of spiders in a xeric garden is impressive. They fit almost every niche, and make every kind of web imaginable.

Some actually don’t even make a web, just a long thin strand of silk which they use to tether themselves to a high up branch of a tree. These are the ones you can see glinting in the sunlight on a warm day.

Many string single lines across open spaces such as your pathways, usually right at face level so that you walk into it.

If you see a spider spinning a web, that is an indication that it won’t rain that day, as they won’t build a web if it’s going to rain. How can they tell? Some scientists say they can sense the barometric pressure, but I say it’s just more xeric garden magic.

Other spiders such as jumping spiders, live in a burrow in the ground. Find out what your xeric garden spiders are on the Spider Identification page.


Adult Dragonfly

Dragonflies fascinate almost all of us, though I’ve heard of people being deathly afraid of them. They do look ferocious, but as long as they just eat mosquitoes, both as adult and larval stages we’re in no danger.

They have remained

almost unchanged except for the size since the Jurassic period and their fossils look exactly the same as live dragonflies today.

Adult dragonflies have to have access to calm water to lay their eggs.

When I’m cleaning out my water pump that circulates the water in the pond I always watch for the nymphs, which look like black or dark brown monsters.

Although the adult dragonfly spends it’s life in the air, even a few moments out of water will kill the nymphs. As they’re such good hunters, eating many mosquito larvae and other pond critters, they are a treasured resource in my xeric garden.

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Dragonfly larvae case clinging to a reed

Wasps of many kinds expand the ranks of xeric garden insects.

There are hornets, mud daubers, tiny iridescent blue or green ones, black ones with orange wings, huge orange ones with a long ovipositor to insert their eggs deep into a rotting log, and ones that are less than 1cm long congregating on Elfin thyme flowers.

In the case of wasps, it is live and let live, until the first sting of a hornet, after which I have to take action.

My method of dealing with over-territorial wasps is to put a spoonful of raspberry jam in a narrow necked bottle and add beer, juice or wine to about halfway up, then leave it where they’ll find it. They’ll kill to get in there to feast, but sadly, they usually kill themselves instead. At least they die in bliss!

Robber flies look a lot like a helicopter, going on a mission. They eat their weight in small insects which they catch on the wing.

Mantids, or preying mantis are fascinating insects. They can be big, but they’re so slow moving and well camouflaged that you seldom see them. They lay in wait for their prey with infinite patience, only to pounce at the last second. Their heads with very large eyes swivel almost right around.

Some are a drab brown, others bright green to match their surroundings.

They are available as eggs that you can put in the greenhouse to hatch where they’ll predate pest insects.

Other diverse and interesting insects are crickets, which includes those masters of disguise, Katydids. These look so much like a leaf, you’ll be surprised to spot them.

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Katydid on purple petunia – did you spot it?

This female (you can see the sickle shaped ovipositor through her wing) is completely disguised as a leaf.

Prey Insects…

…take the role of food to the predatory insects, as well as birds and other wildlife too.

Butterflies are one of the loveliest and most treasured of xeric garden insects.

Providing a nectar corridor or butterfly garden gives them an excellent reason to stay in your garden, pleasing us with their activities and colour.

Watching them change from caterpillars to adult butterflies is a fascinating thing to observe.

Raise your own swallowtail butterflies and watch the miracle first hand. (link opens in a new window)

Need more of these fascinating insects in your garden? Plant butterfly food plants to attract them.

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Swallowtail Butterfly on Syringa – Gloriously striped, the Swallowtail butterfly is attracted to the nectar of early blooming lilacs…

Xeric garden insects that we class as pests are usually pretty tasty to predators, as well as to chickens if you have them.

When I find an aphid laden plant, in it goes – vegetable and protein in one meal, wow.

If you can bear to just watch and pay attention in your xeric garden, you’ll see a million murders, and a million muggings a day. It’s a cruel world. There is no live and let live in the xeric garden, especially in the insect world. It’s more like eat, then be eaten.

Providing shelter, food sources such as some plants for bees and overwintering space to your xeric garden insects will give you such satisfaction as well as increasing bio-diversity.

By quietly observing these fascinating creatures with their long history you will gain a much better understanding of the intricate processes at work in your xeric garden.