Photo |  Courtesy of Pixabay

By MELISSA WOLD, Mobile Master Gardener |

Step aside, Batman, Green Hornet and Spiderman. Nature’s own comic-con is underway. The insect world’s superheroes are here to save our gardens and crops, if not the world.

I have gathered some intel on our caped crusaders. These creatures thwart the evildoers in our fields, orchards, parks, lawns and gardens.

Assassin bugs are insects that feed on ants and aphids. They punch their needle-like mouths into their prey, injecting a lethal saliva before sucking out the prey’s insides.

Dragonflies can travel over 50 mph. They snatch mosquitoes, midges and other prey out of midair as well as spiders from their webs. Their street cred is being the insect world’s ultimate aerial killers.

Pirate bugs are the friends of farmers and gardeners. They have a voracious appetite for spider mites, corn earworms, caterpillars (the bad kind) and leafhoppers. They eat both eggs and adults.

Syrphid flies resemble small bees. They attack aphids, mealybugs, termites, thrips and leafhoppers. Adults provide good pest control for vegetables, oil seeds and other annual crops. They also pollinate crops by carrying pollen on their feet as they hunt for pests.

Wolf spiders, though not insects, are successful hunters with great eyesight. They do not spin webs to capture their prey but pounce on or chase their target over short distances. Often, they wait for their prey at the mouths of burrows.

Lacewings devour spider mites, psyllids, aphids, whiteflies and mealybugs. The larvae resemble miniature alligators with tonglike pincers.

Soldier beetles are nocturnal predators related to lightning bugs. They feed on cutworms and other insects detrimental to crops.

Ladybugs keep aphids and other sap feeders under control. There are more than 5,000 types of ladybugs worldwide; nearly 500 varieties in the United States alone.

Spring Tiphia wasps feast on Japanese beetle grubs. The adults feed on the juices from aphids and mealybugs. They are stealth assassins, sneaking up on the grubs to kill them.

So next Halloween, forget about Superman, Batgirl or Atom Ant. Don your red and black armor, spread your wings and go as the dazzling, deadly Lady Bug (don’t forget your lipstick) or any of her heroic sidekicks. UP, UP AND AWAY!

Gardeners, check out these events:

What: Mobile Master Gardeners Lunch & Learn
When: Monday, Aug. 20, noon to 1 p.m.
Where: Jon Archer Ag Center, 1070 Schillinger Road N., Mobile
Topic: Learn about this new nonprofit that works alongside our local community to transform vacant and blighted neighborhoods into community assets. The speaker will highlight projects that are planned and explain how to get involved.
Speaker: Larissa Graham, Groundwork-Mobile Co., Student Conservation Association

What: Landscaping 101
When: Aug. 27 & 28, 6–8 p.m., call 251-574-8445 to register
Where: Jon Archer Ag Center, 1070 Schillinger Road N., Mobile
Topic: Learn how to have a beautiful yard and save money
Speakers: Urban Regional Extension Jack Lecroy and Regional Extension Agent Evan Ware

What: Mobile Master Gardeners Monthly Meeting
When: Thursday, Sept. 6, 10-11:30 a.m.
Where: Jon Archer Ag Center, 1070 Schillinger Road N., Mobile
Topic: Floral Design for Sacred Spaces
Speakers: Judy Campbell and Carol Murphy

What: Open House of Mobile Master Gardeners’ DREAM GardenCome tour our Native Garden, Cottage Garden, Pass Along Garden, Vegetable Garden, Shade Garden, Herb Garden and more.
When: Monday, Sept. 10, 10 a.m. to noon
Where: Jon Archer Ag Center, 1070 Schillinger Road N., Mobile