University of Maryland Extension


praying mantidMature Carolina mantid on leaf

Rove beetle

tiger beetle

Six spotted tiger beetle

wheel bug

 Wheel bug

What are Predatory Insects?

Predators are animals that eat other animals, called prey, and are usually fairly active because they have to hunt their prey. Predatory insects eat many pest insects and are an important part of a natural control program for the home garden. The most common insect predators are in the beetle, true bug, lacewing, wasp, and dragonfly families, as well as some flies. Other arthropods, such as spiders and predatory mites, are also important predators of insect pests in the home garden. Even vertebrates get in on the action, with birds and toads feeding heavily on insects and snakes effectively providing rodent control. To encourage vertebrate predators in the home garden, a water source should be provided.

What is the difference between predator specialists and generalists?

Some predators are specialists, feeding on only one or a few species of prey, but most are generalists and feed on a wide variety of insect pests and even, at times, each other.  They may feed on any or all life stages, including eggs, larvae (caterpillars, grubs, and maggots), nymphs, pupae or adults. Some are predators during both their larval and adult stages (e.g., lady bird beetles), while others are predaceous only in the larval stage (e.g., lacewings) and as adults feed on nectar and pollen from flowers. Predators that eat only other arthropods are called carnivores; arthropods that eat only plants are referred to as herbivores and are frequently the prey of predators. Predators that feed on both prey and plants (pollen and nectar) are called omnivores.

How do predator insects kill their prey?

Predators like lady beetles and ground beetles chew and devour their prey. Others, like assassin bugs, predatory stink bugs, and the larvae of lacewings and flower flies, have piercing mouthparts and suck the fluids from the bodies of their prey. Some are active hunters, stalking and running down their prey; others, such as dragonflies, may catch dinner on the wing; and still others like mantises hide patiently in ambush, snatching up unsuspecting victims that wander too close. However they catch their dinner, predators are a gardener’s best friend!

Contributors: Mike Raupp, Jon Traunfeld, and Chris Sargent
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