Meet the Garden Beetles: Helpful Backyard Bugs

Japanese beetles are an unwelcome sight, but many other garden beetles are worth welcoming your yard. Learn which beetles are good bugs.

Garden Beetles You Should Know

Soldier beetle on white flowersAnnie Otzen/Getty Images
Soldier beetle on white flowers

Not all beetles have such fanciful names as fireflies and ladybugs. But many of them have something more important in common: They’re good bugs for your garden. Coleoptera, more commonly known as beetles, is the most diverse insect order, with more than 350,000 species, 24,000 in North America alone. So there’s a pretty good chance that you’re going to encounter garden beetles.

While it’s true that some beetles are pests (Japanese beetles come to mind), many more are a boon to gardeners, pollinating plants, preying on pests or helping to compost decaying plant and animal -material. Remember that if you use toxic pesticides, you often kill off all the beneficial insects for your garden, including beetles. I always say that instead of using chemicals, it’s better to have a diversely planted garden that provides lots of habitat for hardworking garden beetles and other pollinators and predators. Here are some of the most common beetles in the garden. If you see one, let it be!

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Ladybird Beetles

ladybug facts, Seven-spotted Ladybug (Coccinella septempunctata), adult eating Aphids (Aphidoidea), Sinton, Corpus Christi, Coastal Bend, Texas, USABill Draker/Getty Images
Seven spotted ladybug eating aphids 

Probably the best known group of beetles, they vary in color and pattern. Some are red or orange with black spots, some are black with red spots, while others have no spots at all. All are predatory both as larvae and adults, feeding on soft-bodied plant pests such as aphids, mealybugs, caterpillars and scales.

Fireflies

A lightning bug perched on a blade of grass, its abdomen lit in bright yellow light.James Jordan Photography/Getty Images
A firefly perched on a blade of grass.

Famous for their glowing abdomens, many firefly species don’t live long as adults because they are too focused on mating and reproducing to eat, but their larvae are predatory, feasting on other insects, slugs and snails. These beetles are also commonly known as lightning bugs.

Ground Beetles

Ground beetle beneficial insectsClarence Holmes Wildlife/Alamy Stock Photo
Ground beetle

This nocturnal garden bugs family includes the tiger beetle and bombardier beetle. Most are voracious predators that patrol the ground in search of prey. Their larvae, too, are predatory. Ground beetles are swift runners; many species have large mandibles used to hold and dispatch victims.

Soldier Beetles

Joe-pye weed Eupatorium purpureum and Pennsylvania Leather wing Chauliognathus pennsylvanicusNNehring/Getty Images
The Pennsylvania leatherwing is a common type of soldier beetle

These garden bugs are active during the day and live in vegetation, where they feed on pollen and nectar and serve as pollinators. They also feed on aphids and other insect pests. Their larvae are carnivorous, feeding on eggs and other insect larvae. These beetles are common in gardens and considered beneficial. If you have goldenrod or Joe Pye weed in your garden, you’ll very likely see them on those plants.

Milkweed Leaf Beetle

Milkweed beetle (Labidomera clivicollis). Male and female, Milkweed labidomeramarcophotos/Getty Images
Milkweed beetles

This distinctly colored beetle is common in gardens where milkweed has been allowed to grow. They’re almost twice the size of the common ladybug.

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Red Milkweed Beetle

Red Milkweed BeetleJennifer Seeman/Getty Images
Red milkweed beetle on a milkweed leaf

If there are any milkweeds in your garden, this beetle will show up, especially if you grow common milkweed, its favorite host plant. Its bright red color warns birds and other insects, “Don’t eat me. I’m toxic.”

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Scarab Beetles

Garden Bugs Scarab BeetleJill Staake
Sometimes called dung beetles, scarab beetles are sometimes surprisingly beautiful up close. 

Many species of these stout, oval-shaped beetles feed on animal dung, making them very good bugs for your garden!

Rove Beetles

These long-bodied beetles look something like earwigs and are found in the same habitat, under rocks, logs and leaf litter. Unlike earwigs, however, rove beetles are predatory.

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David Mizejewski
David Mizejewski is a naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation, as well as a nationally recognized media personality and speaker. He hosted and co-produced Backyard Habitat, a series on Animal Planet that showed people how to transform their yards and gardens into thriving habitats for birds and other local wildlife. He has also appeared in the Animal Planet mini-series Springwatch U.S.A., as well as Nat Geo WILD on series such as Are You Smarter Than, How Human Are You, and Unlikely Animal Friends. He co-hosted Nat Geo’s prime time television series Pet Talk. In addition to writing for Birds & Blooms, he is the author of the book Attracting Birds, Butterflies, and Other Backyard Wildlife.