Backyard Beneficial Insects in New Mexico


Guide H-172

Ashley B. Bennett and Miranda L. Kersten
College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, New Mexico State University


Authors: Respectively, former Small Urban Farm IPM Specialist, Department of Extension Plant Sciences and Senior Program Specialist, Agricultural Science Center at Los Lunas (Print Friendly PDF).

Table of Contents

Introduction
Pollinators
Natural Enemies of Pest Insects
Bee Mimic
Evidence of Beneficial Insects
Glossary
Further Reading


All photos by Ashley B. Bennett and Miranda L. Kersten unless otherwise noted.


Introduction

This guide will help you learn how to identify beneficial insects with identification tips and photos of beneficial insects found in New Mexico. Beneficial insects include pollinators and natural enemies of pest insects, which include insects that prey upon other insects and insects that parasitize other insects.

To find beneficial insects in your backyard, observe floral resources that are available. Pollinators and many natural enemies feed on pollen and nectar. Other natural enemies may lay in wait near flowers for their prey to approach. For more information on how to use floral resources to encourage populations of beneficial insects, see NMSU Extension Guide H-169, Using Insectary Plants to Attract and Sustain Beneficial Insects for Biological Pest Control (https://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h/H169.pdf).

Being able to identify beneficial insects in your backyard or garden can help you to distinguish them from pests, provide you with the knowledge to monitor beneficial insect populations in your backyard, and assist with your integrated pest management (IPM) program. For more information on this last topic, see NMSU Extension Circular 655, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) for Home Gardeners (https://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_circulars/CR655.pdf).

Figure 1 shows the basic parts of an insect body. Certain terms are defined in the glossary near the end of this publication.

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Fig. 01: Photograph of a bee showing the basic parts of an insect body.

Figure 1. Basic parts of an insect body. (Photo by © Isselee, Dreamstime.com.)


Pollinators

Bumble Bees (Figures 2A–2D)
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Apidae

Identification Tips

Head

  • Hairy and variable in color but usually black or black and yellow
  • Large eyes, long antennae

Body

  • Robust large bee; body length for workers is 8–18 mm
    (0.3–0.7 inch)
  • Body is very hairy
  • Color pattern typically yellow and black, sometimes with
    orange bands on abdomen
  • Color pattern can often distinguish species

Wings

2 pairs, 4 wings total

Active

Early spring (larger individuals) to late fall

Other

Generalist; visits a wide variety of flowers

Key ID Tip

Large hairy bees with typically yellow and black hair

Fig. 02A: Photograph of a bumble bee.

Figure 2A. Bumble bee.

Fig. 02B: Photograph of a bumble bee.

Figure 2B. Bumble bee.

Fig. 02C: Photograph of a bumble bee.

Figure 2C. Bumble bee.

Fig. 02D: Photograph of a bumble bee.

Figure 2D. Bumble bee.


Honey Bees (Figures 3A–3D)
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Apidae

Identification Tips

Head

  • Hairy and light tan in color
  • Large hairy eyes, long antennae

Body

  • Medium to large bee around 10–15 mm (0.4–0.6 inch) in length
  • Thorax is hairy and amber in color; abdomen is not fuzzy but has short light-colored hair bands
  • Banding on abdomen is light tan to dark brown
  • Abdomen significantly less hairy than in bumble bees and lacks any yellow coloring

Wings

  • 2 pairs, 4 wings total
  • Long curved cell at tip of forewing (Figure 3A)

Active

Generally early spring to very late fall

Other

Generalist; visits a wide variety of flowers

Key ID Tip

Hairy head and thorax; light tan to dark brown banding on abdomen

Fig. 03A: Photograph of a honey bee wing showing distinct long curved cell at wing tip.

Figure 3A. Honey bee wing showing distinct long curved cell at wing tip.

Fig. 03B: Photograph of a honey bee.

Figure 3B. Honey bee.

Fig. 03C: Photograph of a honey bee.

Figure 3C. Honey bee.

Fig. 03D: Photograph of a honey bee abdomen.

Figure 3D. The abdomen of a honey bee has short white hairs in bands and can vary from light tan to dark brown in color.


Honey Bee vs. Bumble Bee (Figures 4A and 4B)

Identification Tips

Honey Bee

Bumble Bee

Medium- to large-sized bee

Large robust bee

Banded abdomen that is tan to amber

Typically yellow and black hair patterns

Abdomen less hairy than bumble bees

Very hairy bodies, including abdomen

Hairy eyes

Banding pattern on abdomen will vary

Fig. 04A: Photograph of a honey bee.

Figure 4A. Honey bee.

Fig. 04B: Photograph of a bumble bee.

Figure 4B. Bumble bee.


Metallic Green Sweat Bees (Figures 5A–5D)
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Halictidae

Identification Tips

Head

  • Few hairs
  • Green to blue-green

Body

  • Small bees 7–11 mm (0.25–0.4 inch) in length
  • Thorax is bright green to blue-green
  • Abdomen can be solid green or striped (e.g., black with the white stripes of hairs or yellow and tan with yellow stripes)

Wings

  • 2 pairs, 4 wings total
  • Strong curved vein at the wing base (Figure 5D)

Active

Spring to fall, depending on species

Other

Generalist; visits a wide variety of flowers

Key ID Tip

Metallic green in color

Fig. 05A: Photograph of a green bee with solid green abdomen.

Figure 5A. Green bee with solid green abdomen.

Fig. 05B: Photograph of a green bee with striped abdomen.

Figure 5B. Green bee with striped abdomen.

Fig. 05C: Photograph of a green bee covered in pollen.

Figure 5C. A green bee covered in pollen.

Fig. 05D: Photograph of the curved basal wing vein of Halictidae bees.

Figure 5D. The curved basal wing vein of Halictidae bees.


Small Bees (Figures 6A–6F)
Order: Hymenoptera
Families: Andrenidae, Colletidae, Halictidae

Identification Tips

Head

  • No hairs to moderately hairy
  • Black to dark metallic
  • If black and no hairs, then face often has two yellowish markings beside each eye, or a solid yellow face

Body

  • Small bees 2–10 mm (0.08–0.4 inch) in length
  • Thorax is black or dark metallic (e.g., green, blue, copper)
  • Abdomen can be solid black, brown, or banded
  • If banded, often black and white or tan and brown

Wings

2 pairs, 4 wings total

Active

Spring to fall, depending on species

Other

  • Generalist; visits a variety of usually disk-shaped flowers
  • There are quite a few specialists in the genera Andrena, Colletes, and Calliopsis

Key ID Tip

Small and metallic, or small and black with yellow on face

Fig. 06A: Photograph of a small bee.

Figure 6A. Small bee (family Halictidae).

Fig. 06B: Photograph of a Hylaeus sp. bee.

Figure 6B. Hylaeus (family Colletidae) bees can be distinguished by the two yellowish marking on their face.

Fig. 06C: Photograph of a Lsioglossum sp. bee.

Figure 6C. Lasioglossum sp. (family Halictidae).

Fig. 06D: Photograph of a Halictus sp. bee.

Figure 6D. Halictus sp. (family Halictidae).

Fig. 06E: Photograph of a Hylaeus sp. bee.

Figure 6E. A Hylaeus sp. nectars on a milkweed flower (Asclepias sp.).

Fig. 06F: Photograph of a bee from the family Andrenidae.

Figure 6F. A bee from the family Andrenidae nectars on a milkweed flower.


Medium to Large Bees (Figures 7A–7I)
Order: Hymenoptera
Families: Andrenidae, Apidae, Halictidae, Megachilidae

Identification Tips

Head

  • Moderately hairy to hairy; NOT metallic
  • Some bees in the group will have very long antennae

Body

  • Medium to large bees 11–25 mm (0.4–1 inch) in length
  • Larger bees are robust in size with thick pollen-carrying hairs on back legs
  • Some bees carry pollen on the underside of their abdomen
  • Thorax is typically black with white, tan, or black hairs
  • Abdomen is typically banded but can be solid
  • If banded, often black with white bands of hair

Wings

2 pairs, 4 wings total

Active

Early spring to fall, depending on species

Other

Visits disk- and tubular-shaped flowers

Key ID Tip

Pollen-carrying hairs on back legs or underside of abdomen

Fig. 07A: Photograph of a Megachile sp. bee.

Figure 7A. Megachile (family Megachilidae) bees (left) store pollen on the underside of their abdomen.

Fig. 07B: Photograph of a Triepeolus sp. bee.

Figure 7B. This Triepeolus sp. (family Apidae) is a cleptoparasite. Look for the smiley face on the thorax to help identify this bee.

Fig. 07C: Photograph of a long-horned bee (family Apidae).

Figure 7C. A long-horned bee (family Apidae, tribe Eucerini) on a coneflower (Ratibida columnifera).

Fig. 07D: Photograph of a Megachile sp. bee.

Figure 7D. A Megachile sp. (family Megachilidae) bee visits a blanketflower (Gaillardia sp.).

Fig. 07E: Photograph of an Anthophora sp. bee.

Figure 7E. An Anthophora sp. (family Apidae) bee visits a coneflower (Ratibida columnifera).

Fig. 07F: Photograph of the dorsal view of a Megachile sp. bee.

Figure 7F. The dorsal view of a Megachile sp. (family Megachilidae) bee.

Fig. 07G: Photograph of a large bee from the family Apidae.

Figure 7G. A large bee from the family Apidae covered in pollen.

Fig. 07H: Photograph of a Dieunomia sp. bee.

Figure 7H. A Dieunomia sp. (family Halictidae) bee visits an Aster sp. flower.

Fig. 07I: Photograph of a carpenter bee.

Figure 7I. Carpenter bees (Xylocopa spp., family Apidae) are large bees that may be confused with bumble bees; however, carpenter bees carry pollen on scopa. (Photo by Brandt Magic.)


Large Bee vs. Bumble Bee (Figures 8A and 8B)

Identification Tips

Large Bee

Bumble Bee

Pollen carried between hairs on legs (scopa)

Pollen carried in a ball on the pollen basket

Fig. 08A: Photograph of a large bee showing its scopa.

Figure 8A. This large bee (family Apidae) carries pollen on scopa on its hind legs.

Fig. 08B: Photograph of a bumble bee showing its pollen basket.

Figure 8B. Bumble bees (Bombus spp., family Apidae) carry their pollen mixed with nectar on their hind legs in a pollen basket. They do not have scopa.


Monarch Butterfly (Figures 9A–9C) and Monarch Mimics (Figures 9D–9G)
Order: Lepidoptera
Family: Nymphalidae

Identification Tips

Wings

  • Black and orange in color with a wingspan of around 88–127 mm (3.5–5 inches)
  • Black border on edge of hindwing with two rows of white spots
  • Large white spots on the end of forewing
  • Black wing veins

Mimics (Figures 9D–9G)

  • Viceroy butterfly

    - Very similar color pattern with black wing veins

    - Black line on lower hindwing differentiates it from monarch butterfly

    - Often smaller than monarchs with wingspan of 63–76 mm (2.5–3 inches)

  • Queen butterfly

    - Often darker rusty orange in color

    - Black border on edge of hindwing without white spots

    - Often smaller than monarchs with wingspan of 76–89 mm (3–3.5 inches)

Active

Summer to fall

Other

Adult monarchs visit flowers for nectar. Monarch and queen caterpillars feed only on the leaves of milkweed plants.

Key ID Tips

  • White spots on black body
  • Orange and black wings with white spots within black border of wing edge

Fig. 09A: Photograph of a female monarch butterfly.

Figure 9A. A female monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus).

Fig. 09B: Photograph of a male monarch butterfly.

Figure 9B. Male monarch butterflies can be distinguished from females by the presence of the dark gland on their hind wings.

Fig. 09C: Photograph of a monarch caterpillar.

Figure 9C. Monarch caterpillars are milkweed specialists and require milkweed plants to survive.

Fig. 09D: Photograph of a queen butterfly.

Figure 9D. A male queen butterfly (Danaus gilippus) nectars on a flower following its emergence from its chrysalis.

Fig. 09E: Photograph of a queen butterfly caterpillar.

Figure 9E. Like monarchs, queen caterpillars feed only on milkweed plants. Queen caterpillars have three sets of filaments, while monarch caterpillars have only two.

Fig. 09F: Photograph of a viceroy butterfly.

Fig. 09G: Photograph of a viceroy butterfly.

Figures 9F (top) and 9G (bottom). Viceroy butterflies (Limenitis archippus) can be distinguished from monarch butterflies by the black line that runs across the lower hindwing.

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Natural Enemies of Pest Insects

Checkered Beetle (Figures 10A and 10B)
Order: Coleoptera
Family: Cleridae

Identification Tips

Head

  • Rectangular head; clubbed antennae
  • Head wider than pronotum

Body

  • Size ranges from 3–24 mm (0.1–1 inch)
  • Brightly colored contrasting pattern
  • Often quite hairy
  • Pronotum cylindrical and narrower than elytra

Wings

Second pair hidden under elytra

Active

Spring to fall

Prey

Grasshopper eggs, aphids, other small insects

Other

  • Adults and larvae are predaceous, but adults will also
    feed on pollen
  • Some species are common on flowers
  • Overwinter in the soil as larvae, pupae, or adults

Key ID Tips

  • Bright color pattern
  • Cylindrical pronotum that is more narrow than
    head and elytra

Fig. 10A: Photograph of a checkered beetle.

Figure 10A. Adult checkered beetles are predators, but also feed on pollen.

Fig. 10B: Photograph of a checkered beetle.

Figure 10B. Checkered beetle (family Cleridae).


Ground Beetle (Figure 11)
Order: Coleoptera
Family: Carabidae

Identification Tips

Head

Chewing mouthparts

Body

  • Oval body 1–60 mm (0.04–2.4 inches) in length
  • Often dark brown or black; may be iridescent

Wings

Second pair hidden under elytra

Active

Summer to fall

Prey

Caterpillars, grasshoppers, beetles, aphids, flies, snails

Other

  • Adults and immatures are predaceous
  • Adults are often active at night on the soil surface
  • Larvae feed in the soil on soft-bodied insects
  • Overwinter in grassy clumps as adults or larvae

Key ID Tips

  • Dark colors, often iridescent
  • Active on the ground at night

Fig. 11: Photograph of a ground beetle.

Figure 11. Ground beetles (family Carabidae) may have iridescent bodies, like this fiery searcher (Calosoma scrutator), or may be dark brown or black.


Lady Beetle (Figures 12A–12H)
Order: Coleoptera
Family: Coccinellidae

Identification Tips

Head

Pronotum larger than head

Body

  • Oval to round in shape; around 1–8 mm (0.04–0.3 inch)
    in length
  • Body color is red, orange, or gray with black markings
  • Usually spotted pattern but can be solid

Wings

Hidden under elytra

Active

Spring through fall

Prey

Aphids, scale insects, mites, thrips, insect eggs

Other

  • Immature lady beetles have six legs and no wings
  • Body color of immature stage is black with orange or red markings
  • Overwinter as adults

Key ID Tips

  • Head often concealed by pronotum (except for convergent lady beetle)
  • Often red/orange in color with black markings
  • Elytra covers abdomen

Fig. 12A: Photograph of a convergent lady beetle.

Figure 12A. Convergent lady beetle (Hippodamia convergens).

Fig. 12B: Photograph of seven-spotted lady beetle.

Figure 12B. Seven-spotted lady beetle (Coccinella septempunctata).

Fig. 12C: Photograph of a two-spotted lady beetle.

Figure 12C. Two-spotted lady beetle (Adalia bipunctata).

Fig. 12D: Photograph of a twice-stabbed lady beetle.

Figure 12D. Twice-stabbed lady beetle (Chilocorus sp.).

Fig. 12E: Photograph of a multi-colored lady beetle.

Figure 12E. Multi-colored lady beetle (Harmonia sp.).

Fig. 12F: Photograph of an ashy gray lady beetle.

Figure 12F. Ashy gray lady beetle (Olla v-nigrum).

Fig. 12G: Photograph of a parenthesis lady beetle.

Figure 12G. Parenthesis lady beetle (Hippodamia parenthesis).

Fig. 12H: Photograph of a lady beetle larva.

Figure 12H. Lady beetle larvae are predaceous.


Two-spotted Melyrid (Figure 13)
Order: Coleoptera
Family: Melyridae

Identification Tips

Head

Dark green

Body

  • Body color is metallic greenish-blue to black; around 7 mm (0.25 inch) in length
  • Pronotum is red with two black spots
  • Abdomen extends past the elytra

Wings

Second pair hidden under elytra

Active

Summer

Prey

Insect eggs, aphids, spider mites, caterpillars

Other

  • Immature and adult stages are predatory
  • Overwinter as adults

Key ID Tips

  • Two black spots on pronotum
  • Metallic body that is widest towards end of abdomen

Fig. 13: Photograph of a two-spotted melyrid.

Figure 13. A two-spotted melyrid (Collops bipunctatus) on a golden crownbeard (Verbesina encelioides) flower. (Photo by Pamela Wolfe.)


Robber Fly (Figures 14A–14C)
Order: Diptera
Family: Asilidae

Identification Tips

Head

  • Piercing–sucking mouthparts
  • Have “bearded” face with long fine hairs covering mouthparts
  • Large eyes with sunken area between eyes

Body

  • Size ranges from 3–50 mm (0.1–2 inches), with average size of 9–15 mm (0.3–0.6 inch)
  • Long and tapered abdomen that may be brown, gray, or black, or colored to mimic a bumble bee
  • Legs are long, strong, and used to grab prey

Wings

1 pair, 2 wings total

Active

Summer

Prey

Butterflies, bees, beetles, grasshoppers, leafhoppers, wasps, flies, spiders

Other

  • Larval stage lives in the soil and is predaceous on insect larvae
  • Overwinter in the soil as larvae

Key ID Tip

Large eyes, single pair of wings, long tapering abdomen, long legs

Fig. 14A: Photograph of a bee-mimicking robber fly.

Figure 14A. A bee-mimicking robber fly (Mallophora fautrix) with its bee prey.

Fig. 14B: Photograph of a robber fly.

Figure 14B. A robber fly perches on a plant.

Fig. 14C: Photograph of a robber fly.

Figure 14C. A robber fly showing the tapered abdomen.


Syrphid Fly (Figures 15A–15D)
Order: Diptera
Family: Syrphidae

Identification Tips

Head

Large eyes with short antennae

Body

  • Body ranges from 8–20 mm (0.3–0.8 inch) in length
  • Thorax ranges from not hairy to moderately hairy; black to tan in color
  • Abdomen is yellow, tan, and black and looks similar to a bee

Wings

  • 1 pair, 2 wings total
  • Spurious wing vein does not connect with other wing veins and may be visible in larger species

Active

Spring through fall

Prey

Aphids, scale insects, spider mites, thrips

Other

  • Adults are not predaceous and instead visit flowers for nectar and pollen
  • Immature stage is predaceous
  • Overwinter in leaf litter or soil as eggs, larvae, or pupae

Key ID Tip

Only have two wings, large eyes, short antenna, are yellow and black in color and often have an iridescent sheen to wings, often seen hovering over plants

Fig. 15A: Photograph of a syrphid fly.

Figure 15A. Syrphid flies often have an iridescent sheen on wings, black and yellow coloring on abdomen, and large eyes.

Fig. 15B: Photograph of a syrphid fly.

Figure 15B. Syrphid flies have large eyes and short antennae.

Fig. 15C: Photograph of the spurious vein in a syrphid fly wing.

Figure 15C. The spurious vein in the wing may be visible in larger syrphid flies.

Fig. 15D: Photograph of a syrphid fly larva.

Figure 15D. A syrphid fly larva crawls between two alyssum (Lobularia maritima) flowers.


Tachinid Fly (Figure 16)
Order: Diptera
Family: Tachinidae

Identification Tips

Head

  • Often hairy
  • Very large eyes

Body

  • Colors and size vary by species; 2–20 mm (0.1–0.75 inch) in length
  • Covered with bristled hairs

Wings

1 pair, 2 wings total

Active

Spring through fall

Prey/Host

Mostly caterpillars, but may also target beetles, grasshoppers, and other insects

Other

  • Adults are not predaceous and instead visit flowers for nectar and pollen
  • Immature stage is predaceous and feeds inside their host (parasitoid)
  • Overwinters in leaf litter or within host as pupae

Key ID Tip

Resembles a housefly but has more hairs that are thick and bristled

Fig. 16: Photograph of a tachinid fly and pupal case.

Figure 16. Tachinid fly (left) and pupal case.


Assassin and Ambush Bugs (Figures 17A–17E)
Order: Hemiptera
Family: Reduviidae

Identification Tips

Head

  • Piercing–sucking mouthparts called a beak
  • Small elongated head with small eyes and distinct “neck”

Body

  • Oval but narrow body often wider than wings; 5–36 mm (0.2–1.4 inches) in length
  • Body color is usually brown, gray, or black but can have red or green markings
  • Front legs often swollen and may have spines
  • Wheel bugs have a semicircular structure with spines on their thorax

Wings

2 pairs that are membranous with clear tips

Active

Summer

Prey

Aphids, caterpillars, grasshoppers, beetles

Other

  • Adults and immatures are predaceous
  • Wheel bugs are excellent predators of caterpillars
  • Overwinter in any life stage in leaf litter or under bark

Key ID Tips

  • Bottle-like head with distinct neck region behind eyes
  • Front legs often hairy or spiny

Fig. 17A: Photograph of a wheel bug.

Figure 17A. A wheel bug sits on a flower. Its beak (mouthpart on an assassin bug) can be seen folded under its head.

Fig. 17B: Photograph of a wheel bug.

Figure 17B. A wheel bug sitting on goldenrod (Solidago sp.) shows the wings folded on the wider abdomen.

Fig. 17C: Photograph of a leafhopper assassin bug.

Figure 17C. A leafhopper assassin bug lays in wait for prey on a plains coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria) flower.

Fig. 17D: Sideview photograph of an assassin bug.

Figure 17D. The side view of this assassin bug shows the spines on the legs, long beak, and neck.

Fig. 17E: Photograph of an ambush bug.

Figure 17E. An ambush bug feeds on a skipper butterfly (family Hesperiidae).


Beetles vs. True Bugs

Identification Tips

Beetles (family Coleoptera)

True Bugs (family Hemiptera)

Chewing mouthparts

Piercing–sucking mouthparts

Elytra covering second set of wings

Membranous wing tips

Complete metamorphosis

Incomplete metamorphosis


Damsel Bug (Figure 18)
Order: Hemiptera
Family: Nabidae

Identification Tips

Head

Piercing–sucking mouthparts called a beak

Body

  • Slender body; 3–12 mm (0.1–0.5 inch) in length
  • Light brown in color, long slender legs

Wings

2 pairs, longer than body, brown or tan in color

Active

Summer to fall

Prey

Aphids, small caterpillars, thrips, mites, leafhoppers, leaf beetles, insect eggs

Other

  • Adults and immatures are predaceous
  • Overwinter as adults or eggs in leaf litter

Key ID Tips

  • Slender brown body, beak, and long slender legs
  • Lacks neck region beyond the eyes

Fig. 18: Photograph of a common damsel bug.

Figure 18. A common damsel bug (Nabis americoferus). (Photo by Joseph Berger, Bugwood.org.)


Minute Pirate Bug (Figure 19)
Order: Hemiptera
Family: Anthocoridae

Identification Tips

Head

  • Cone-shaped with bulging eyes
  • Segmented antennae
  • Mouthparts are a beak

Body

  • Overall very small and flattened; 2–3 mm (0.1–0.2 inch)
    in length
  • Unique black and white triangular color pattern

Wings

  • 2 pairs; wings create a black and white “X”
  • Tip of wing is clear or white and extends beyond abdomen

Active

Late spring to summer

Prey

Thrips, mites, scale insects, aphids, small caterpillars, insect eggs

Other

  • Adults and immatures are predaceous
  • Supplements its diet with pollen and nectar
  • Overwinter as adults in leaf litter

Key ID Tips

  • Small size
  • Black and white “X” formed by wings

Fig. 19: Photograph of a minute pirate bug.

Figure 19. Minute pirate bugs (Orius spp.) can be difficult to see due to their small size.


Wasp—Large (Figures 20A–20G)
Order: Hymenoptera
Families: Crabronidae, Pompilidae, Scoliidae, Sphecidae, Vespidae

Identification Tips

Head

  • Long segmented antenna
  • Notched eyes indicate a vespid wasp

Body

  • Range in size from 10–50 mm (0.4–2 inches)
  • Overall NOT hairy; long and thin, narrow at waist
  • Thorax and abdomen are often all black or black and yellow
  • Abdomen colors range from yellow to red to black
  • Legs are long, thin, often with spines, and often not hairy (with exception to Scoliidae)

Wings

  • 2 pairs, 4 wings total; often tinted tan or brown in color
  • Folded wings often indicate a sphecid wasp

Active

Spring to fall

Prey

Wide variety of insects and spiders

Other

Adults and immatures are predaceous; adult wasps will also feed on nectar

Key ID Tips

  • Large size, narrow waist, long legs, and body not hairy
  • Pompilidae are all black with iridescent sheen
  • Sphecidae often have folded wings and have a collar for pronotum
  • Vespidae fold wings longitudinally and have notched eyes

Fig. 20A: Photograph of a large wasp.

Figure 20A. Large wasp (family Pompilidae).

Fig. 20B: Photograph of a large wasp.

Figure 20B. Large wasp (family Sphecidae).

Fig. 20C: Photograph of a large wasp.

Figure 20C. Large wasp (family Sphecidae).

Fig. 20D: Photograph of a large wasp.

Figure 20D. Large wasp (family Vespidae).

Fig. 20E: Photograph of a large wasp.

Figure 20E. Large wasp (family Scoliidae).

Fig. 20F: Photograph of a large wasp.

Figure 20F. Large wasp (family Scoliidae).

Fig. 20G: Photograph of a large wasp.

Figure 20G. Large wasp (family Vespidae).


Wasp—Small (Figures 21A–21E)
Order: Hymenoptera
Superfamilies: Chalcidoidea, Cynipoidea, Ichneumonoidea

Identification Tips

Head

Segmented antennae with moderate-sized eyes

Body

  • Overall NOT hairy; range in size from 1–10 mm
    (0.04–0.4 inch)
  • Abdomen and thorax dark in color, can be dark metallic
  • Abdomen rarely with colors such as red or yellow (with exception to Ichneumonidae family, which may have red, yellow, and striped abdomens)

Wings

2 pairs, 4 wings total

Active

Summer

Prey

  • Many are host-specific, targeting eggs, larvae, or adults
  • Insects eggs, aphids, scale insects, caterpillars, flies, leafhoppers, stink bugs, many other insects

Other

Adults visit flowers, while immatures are predaceous on hosts (parasitoid)

Key ID Tip

Often very small, not hairy, long antennae

Fig. 21A: Photograph of a small wasp.

Figure 21A. Small wasp (family Ichneumonidae, superfamily Ichneumonoidea).

Fig. 21B: Photograph of a small wasp.

Figure 21B. Small wasp (family Ichneumonidae, superfamily Ichneumonoidea).

Fig. 21C: Photograph of a small wasp.

Figure 21C. Small wasp (family Encyrtidae, superfamily Chalcidoidea).

Fig. 21D: Photograph of a small wasp.

Figure 21D. Small wasp (family Eucoilidae, superfamily Cynipoidea).

Fig. 21E: Photograph of a small wasp.

Figure 21E. Small wasp (family Ichneumonidae, superfamily Ichneumonoidea).


Praying Mantis (Figures 22A and 22B)
Order: Mantodea
Family: Mantidae

Identification Tips

Head

Triangular head with very large eyes

Body

  • Long body; 50–100 mm (0.5–4 inches) in length
  • Green to brown in color
  • Enlarged front legs with spines; raptorial in shape (adapted to grasping prey)

Wings

2 pairs, 4 wings total

Active

Summer

Prey

Aphids, grasshoppers, beetles, bees, wasps, true bugs, butterflies, moths, caterpillars, flies

Other

  • Adults and immatures are predaceous
  • Opportunistic predators, so not great biological control agents
  • Overwinter as eggs in an egg case
  • Egg cases are laid on twigs in a mass that is covered by a hardened frothy foam

Key ID Tip

Large size, triangular head with large eyes, elongated pronotum (segment with first pair of legs), spiny raptorial front legs

Fig. 22A: Photograph of an immature praying mantis.

Figure 22A. Notice the wings are not fully developed on this mantis, indicating that it is not yet an adult but an immature.

Fig. 22B: Photograph of a praying mantis egg case.

Figure 22B. A praying mantis egg case laid on a branch.


Green Lacewing (Figures 23A–23D)
Order: Neuroptera
Family: Chrysopidae

Identification Tips

Head

  • Bulging eyes are metallic in color
  • Long segmented antennae

Body

  • Pale green in color
  • Range in size from 15–25 mm (0.6–1 inch)

Wings

  • 2 pairs, 4 wings total
  • Longer than body; have many veins, causing them to
    appear lacy

Active

Spring to summer

Prey

Aphids, small caterpillars, thrips, mites, whiteflies, mealybugs, soft-bodied insects

Other

  • Adults and immatures are predaceous, but adults will also feed on nectar, pollen, and honeydew
  • Stalked eggs are oval, white in color, and laid on the underside of leaves
  • Most overwinter as pupae, but some species will overwinter as adults in leaf litter or dry structures

Key ID Tip

Wings have many veins and fold roof-like over the abdomen

Fig. 23A: Photograph of a green lacewing.

Figure 23A. Green lacewing adult showing long lacy wings.

Fig. 23B: Photograph of a green lacewing.

Figure 23B. Green lacewing adult.

Fig. 23C: Photograph of an immature lacewing.

Figure 23C. Immature lacewing.

Fig. 23D: Photograph of lacewing eggs.

Figure 23D. Lacewing eggs hang from the underside of a leaf.


Spider (Figures 24A-24E)
Order: Araneae
Families: Araneidae, Lycosidae, Salticidae, Thomisidae

Identification Tips

Head

Small head compared to body, usually with eight eyes

Body

Oval-shaped body with eight legs

Active

Summer

Prey

Beetles, caterpillars, aphids, bees, wasps, butterflies

Other

  • Spiders are not insects
  • Many make webs
  • Overwinter as adults or eggs in soil or plant material

Key ID Tips

  • Two body segments
  • Small head, usually with eight eyes
  • Eight legs

Fig. 24A: Photograph of an orb weaver spider.

Figure 24A. Orb weaver spider (family Araneidae).

Fig. 24B: Photograph of a crab spider.

Figure 24B. Crab spider (family Thomisidae).

Fig. 24C: Photograph of a jumping spider.

Figure 24C. Jumping spiders (family Salticidae) have two large eyes in the bottom center of their heads.

Fig. 24D: Photograph of a jumping spider.

Figure 24D. Jumping spider (family Salticidae).

Fig. 24E: Photograph of a wolf spider.

Figure 24E. A wolf spider (family Lycosidae) carries its young on its abdomen.

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Bee Mimics

Many species of flies and wasps may appear visually similar to bees. Here are some quick tips to tell them apart as well as some examples of bee mimics.

Bee vs. Fly (Figures 25A–25E)

Key ID

Bee

Fly

Large eyes, often touching on top

No

Yes

Short stubby antennae

No

Yes

Only 2 wings

No

Yes

Carries pollen

Yes

No

Fig. 25A: Photograph of a fly showing large eyes and short antennae.

Figure 25A. Flies have large eyes and short antennae.

Fig. 25B: Photograph of a bee showing longer antennae and pollen on body.

Figure 25B. Bees have longer antennae and carry pollen on their body.

Fig. 25C: Photograph of a bee-mimicking robber fly.

Figure 25C. A bee-mimicking robber fly rests on a plant stem. Notice the “beard” on its face.

Fig. 25D: Photograph of a bee fly.

Figure 25D. Bee flies (family Bombyliidae) may be pollinators and look like bees, but their larval stage is actually a predator and parasitoid of bees.

Fig. 25E: Photograph of a syrphid fly.

Figure 25E. Syrphid flies mimic bees to try to avoid predation.


Bee vs. Wasp (Figures 26A–26C)

Key ID

Bee

Wasp

Generally more coloration

No

Yes

Hairy body

Yes

No

Longer body shape

No

Yes

Long slender hairless legs

No

Yes

Carries pollen

Yes

No

Fig. 26A: Photograph of a wasp.

Figure 26A. Wasp (family Scoliidae).

Fig. 26B: Photograph of a wasp.

Figure 26B. Wasp (family Chrysididae).

Fig. 26C: Photograph of a wasp.

Figure 26C. Wasp (family Crabronidae).

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Evidence Of Beneficial Insects

In your landscape, you may not always see beneficial insects themselves, but you can look for evidence of their activity. Figures 27A through 27F show some examples of the evidence beneficial insects can leave behind.

Fig. 27A: Photograph of aphid “mummies.”

Figure 27A. Aphid “mummies,” or aphids that have been parasitized by beneficial insects, appear gray and swollen.

Fig. 27B: Photograph of exit holes in parasitoid wasp eggs.

Figure 27B. Parasitoid wasps leave exit holes in eggs following their emergence. This evidence may require a hand lens or microscope to view. (Photo by Pamela Wolfe.)

Fig. 27C: Photograph of a leaf with damage from leafcutter bees.

Figure 27C. The presence of leafcutter bees (family Megachilidae) may be confirmed by looking for the “C” shaped damage they cause to leaves. Female leafcutter bees remove pieces from leaves to use as nesting materials.

Fig. 27D: Photograph of a bee in a hole in the ground.

Fig. 27E: Photograph of a bee in a hole in the ground.

Figures 27D (top) and 27E (bottom). Check areas of bare ground for the entry holes created by ground nesting bees.

Fig. 27F: Photograph of a bug with eggs.

Figure 27F. Check plant material for insect eggs. Eggs may be laid singly, in rows, or in clusters, depending on the species.

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Glossary

Abdomen: The body section of an insect that is connected to the back of the thorax and contains reproductive and digestive organs.

Beak: The piercing–sucking mouthpart found on true bugs (order Hemiptera).

Beneficial insect: An insect that provides a service, such as pollination of flowers or predation of pests.

Elytra: Hard protective covering (modified front wings) over hind wings found on beetles (order Coleoptera).

Forewing: One of the front wings of an insect with four wings.

Hindwing: One of the back wings of an insect with four wings.

Integrated pest management (IPM): A pest management approach that combines cultural, mechanical, chemical, and biological control strategies.

Natural enemies: Organisms that reduce populations of another organism through predation and parasitism.

Overwinter: How an insect passes the winter season.

Parasitoid: An insect with a free-living adult stage and a parasitic larval stage.

Predator: An insect that preys on other insects.

Pronotum: The cover of the prothorax (the first segment of the thorax).

Scopa: Hairs on the legs of some bees that collect pollen.

Thorax: The middle body section of an insect that is found between the head and the abdomen. Legs and wings are attached to this section.

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Further Reading

For more information about beneficial insects and their conservation, visit these resources.

Bennett, A.B. 2018. Using insectary plants to attract and sustain beneficial insects for biological pest control [Guide H-169; online]. Las Cruces: New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service. https://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h/H169.pdf

Brown, L.M., P.C. Ellsworth, G.B. Hughes, S. Bundy, P. Porter, V.M. Barlow, S.E. Naranjo, D. Kerns, A. Mustafa, and A. Fournier. 2013. Natural enemies of the Southwest: A field guide to the arthropod natural enemies of Southwestern field crops. Tucson: The University of Arizona.

Flint, M.L., and S.H. Dreistadt. 1998. Natural enemies handbook: The illustrated guide
to biological pest control.
Berkeley: University of California Press.

Gardiner, M.M. 2015. Good garden bugs: Everything you need to know about predatory beneficial insects. Bloomington, IN: Quarry Books.

Grasswitz, T.R., and D.R. Dreesen. 2012. Pocket guide to the beneficial insects of New Mexico [Online]. Las Cruces: New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service. https://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/insects/docs/Beneficial_Insects.pdf

Grasswitz, T.R., and D.R. Dreesen. 2012. Pocket guide to the native bees of New Mexico [Online]. Las Cruces: New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service. https://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/bees/docs/BeeGuide.pdf

Grissell, E. 2010. Bees, wasps, and ants: The indispensable role of Hymenoptera in gardens. Portland, OR: Timber Press.

Holm. H. 2017. Bees: An identification and native plant forage guide. Minnetonka, MN: Pollination Press LLC.

Hopwood, J., E. Lee-Mäder, L. Morandin, M. Vaughan, C. Kremen, J.K. Cruz, J. Eckberg, S.F. Jordan, K. Gill, T. Heidel-Baker, and S. Morris. 2016. Habitat planning for beneficial insects: Guidelines for conservation biological control [Online]. Portland, OR: The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. http://xerces.org/habitat-planning-for-beneficial-insects/

Mader, E., M. Shepherd, M. Vaughan, S.H. Black, and G. LeBuhn. 2011. Attracting native pollinators: Protecting North America’s bees and butterflies. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing.

Mahr, D.L., P. Whitaker, and N. Ridgway. 2008. Biological control of insects and mites: An introduction to beneficial natural enemies and their use in pest management. Madison: University of Wisconsin-Extension.

Walliser, J. 2013. Attracting beneficial bugs to your garden: A natural approach to pest control. Portland, OR: Timber Press.

Wilson, J.S., and O.J. Messinger Carril. 2016. The bees in your backyard: A guide to North America’s bees. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Additional Extension Resources

H-110: Backyard Composting
https://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h/H110/welcome.html

H-169: Using Insectary Plants to Attract and Sustain Beneficial Insects for Biological Pest Control
https://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h/H169/welcome.html

CR-655: Integrated Pest Management (IPM) for Home Gardeners
https://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_circulars/CR655/welcome.html.pdf


Photo of Miranda Kersten.

Miranda Kersten is a Senior Program Specialist with the urban integrated pest management (IPM) program at NMSU’s Agricultural Science Center in Los Lunas. Her work focuses on pollinator and beneficial insect conservation, monitoring beneficial insects across urban landscapes, and managing IPM research projects.


This work is supported by the Crop Protection and Pest Management Program (grant no. 2017-70006-27189) and by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Cooperative Agricultural Project (grant no. 2015-68004-23179/subaward no: 2015-0097-25) from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.


To find more resources for your business, home, or family, visit the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences on the World Wide Web at aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/

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NMSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating.

May 2019, Las Cruces, NM