Insects are among the largest populations of animals in the world. Not all of them are creepy crawly, though. Some insects help plants grow and keep pest populations low. One third of every human's food supply depends on these insects doing their job, especially bees. You could say that the world runs on helping insects!
Without nearly 20,000 species of bees, the world would have no flowering plants. Bees eat pollen and, in the process, fly from plant to plant collecting this. Pollen helps a plant reproduce, so bees are keeping plants alive for generations. Don't get too close to these busybodies doing their important work, bees are also famous for their sting!
Dragonflies look a little bit like a helicopter. They're ancient, they've been around for 320 million years. Today, they play a very helpful role by eating their natural prey, mosquitoes. Mosquitoes carry the Malaria virus, which is deadly to many humans. Dragonflies make sure the mosquito population stays under control.
Dung beetles feed exclusively on animal waste and get all of their nutrients, even their water, from the material. Waste left out too long attracts disease, so farmers depend on dung beetles to clean it up quickly. By disposing of waste, these insects save American cattle farmers an estimated $380 million every year.
Hoverflies look a lot like bees, right down to the stripes and markings on their bodies. They are excellent pollinators but, unlike bees, they are also predators. They eat pests like the harmful leafhopper. Gardeners will try to attract hoverflies by planting buckwheat, parsley and chamomile.
Lacewings are very helpful insects when they're young. Baby lacewings eat only meat and are so "voracious," or hungry that they will eat many times their body weight. To get rid of an infestation, gardeners dump a bucket of lacewing eggs into the garden. They hatch and eat every pest in sight.
Ladybugs are helpful and beautiful. Gardeners love them because they eat pests, and people the world over love them because they are a symbol of good luck. If a ladybug lands on your hand, make a wish and watch it fly! For a funny take on a Ladybug who's actually a man, check out Francis the Ladybug in "A Bug's Life."
Praying mantis bugs look like walking sticks and can grow as big as 18 inches long. They are good for a garden because they kill other insects, but some gardeners get annoyed because a Praying Mantis will kill good bugs and bad bugs alike. For more on the Mantis, check out Manny in "A Bug's Life."
Gardeners like spiders because spiders are excellent predators. They've had time to practice, they've been around for 400 million years. Spiders are generally very shy around humans - few species are dangerous. They will not usually attack humans as prey, so gardeners can feel safe in a garden guarded by spiders.