Little creatures that help in a big way
The major helpers in the garden all reside within the soil community. The hardest and most efficient workers are the smallest, bacteria and fungi, which decompose organics material. The larger helpers are the toads, lizards and birds that catch and eat other pests, although, birds might eat your fruits as well.
So here is a quick overview of the major kingdoms within which most organisms are divided into.
Nematodes (microscopic worm-like animals)
True worms (earthworm)
Amphibians (frogs & toads)
Reptiles (lizards & snakes)
Mammals (Placentals, marsupials & monotremes)
Bacteria and Viruses
Please people, not all arthropods or bacteria are bugs! Bugs (Hemiptera) are one of the major classes within the insect phylum. Also not all bacteria are germs, 70-80% of all bacteria and fungi are beneficial, the same goes for most insects.
Unseen workers are the bacteria, small fungi (yeasts and mould) and nematodes, as these are microscopic. Therefore I will discuss the larger creatures of the garden: Arthropods, Annelids, Molluscs, Amphibians, Reptiles and Birds.
Arthropods are invertebrates with an external skeleton and jointed body parts. Arthropods are the largest group of diverse organisms in the animal kingdom.
This class consists of predators (spiders, scorpions, harvestmen) and parasites (mites and ticks). Our garden has a large Strelitzia (bird of paradise plant) that houses all types of spider crawlies, usually tent spiders and lots of jumping spiders. There isn’t much else to discuss about spiders as I assume most of us are well associated with them as they hunt down all the pests in the garden.
Mainly an aquatic class of invertebrates with jaws and one pair of antennae. Crustaceans in the garden are woodlice (not really a louse, true lice are grouped with the insects) and other decomposing crustaceans such as the ones I have in the wormery.
Little crustaceans in the wormery – feeding on the tea bag J
Insects are the largest animal group in terms of numbers and diversity, especially when it comes to mouth parts and adaptability. Insects are the easiest to recognise and the most abundant in the garden. They are decomposers, pollinators, predators and parasites – basically a whole National Geographic episode in miniature!
|A Woolly BeeFly (Bombyliidae, Systoechus sp.), pollinating the basil flowers. They're so cute & fluffy J|
These are segmented invertebrates, known as ‘True worms’. They inhabit marine, freshwater and soil environments. Earthworms, bristle worms and leeches occupy this phylum.
Pink squashy things. I do not experience earthworms as gross, even before I had the wormery, so I never understand why the majority of people pull faces at the sight of them. They obviously do not know the real disgusting things in our world (those microscopic and parasitic organisms we work with in biological laboratories J). I always associate them with that funny childhood character EarthWorm Jim – the superhero-spacesuit-wearing-earthworm… J Earthworms are responsible for the decomposition of large items, after which the bacteria and fungi do the rest of the work.
Tiger Earthworm - Hard at work...
Soft bodies invertebrates that are mostly marine and freshwater inhabitants. Slugs and snails are the important ones to gardeners, as they are mostly pests. I do not have a problem with either, probably as we are not so ‘urbanised’ as most cities, so a lot of their predators are around, think it is too dry here also… I do keep freshwater golden apple snails – the best pet ever, low maintenance and fun to watch!
Golden apple snails - forever eating
These vertebrates have moist scaleless skin and can be found in freshwater and on the land. Frogs generally are water-bound (some tree frogs stay in very moist environments away from water) and toads are landlubbers. If you have a pond, the frogs shall move in and act as predators to all the larger pest-insects of the garden, such as crickets and grasshoppers. The toads like a moist and shady environment, Fred, the toad who made its home in my rosebush, patrols my garden at night for juicy morsels… Still do not know whether Fred is male or female…
Fred has become quite accustomed to being watered along with the rose.
Guttural Toad (Bufo gutturalis).
Almost opposites of amphibians, with dry, scaly skin. They include small and large lizards, turtles, crocodiles, snakes and tortoises. Skinks and smaller lizards will roam the garden for insect to gobble and if you garden offers a lot of nice lizard hideouts they’ll be permanently on pest eradication duty.
A tortoise was roaming about the lawn once. Don't think it was a pet, so it just passed on through to the bushveld.
Feathered vertebrates and capable of flight (FYI – feathers first evolved as insulation, and not for fight, which was a secondary benefit after some millions of years J). Birds can act as predators, eating insects (even aphids, yeah!), or pollinators, when visiting flowers for nectar. I do not enlist the help of birds in my garden, as they will likely eat everything (becoming a pest rather than a helper) if it weren’t that my garden was next to the cat walkway J. If birds are more of a pest than a help, check out my pest control section…
Lesser DoubleCollared SunBird (Nectarinia chalybea)
-25 October 2011-
For more in depth profiles on selected garden helpers as part of my Garden Critters Series, please feel free to check out the following articles:
Amphibians: Frogs & Toads
King Cricket (parktown prawn): Friend or Foe?
Praying Mantis: The leopards of the insect world