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Bugs That Break it Down
The unsung heroes of the insect world are the decomposers. Decomposers help break down and consume organic materials, such as rotting plants, old wood, manure, dead insects or dead animals.
Black Soldier Fly
Black soldier fly adults look like small wasps at first glance, but they are completely harmless. However, they lay their eggs in compost piles, manure, and decaying vegetation. The larvae have an armored, flattened appearance and feed on decaying organic material. Photo: Bart Drees.
Blow flies seem to show up everywhere...at picnics...in homes...mostly when they are not welcome. They lay their eggs in decaying organic material of all kinds, ranging from plant materials to carrion. The slender, white larvae (maggots) feed on the organic material. Photo: Bart Drees.
Dung beetles are found anywhere there are animal droppings. They hang around pastures and zoos, but they will also seek out pet droppings as well. The adults bury balls of manure in the ground and lay their eggs on them for the grub-like larvae.
Adult lovebugs are often seen coupled together in a mating embrace during springtime. However, their larvae occur in moist soils and feed on decaying plant material. Photo: Bart Drees.
Pillbugs and Sowbugs
Pillbugs (upper, dark gray) and sowbugs (lower, pale gray) are not insects. They are terrestrial crustaceans (related to shrimp and crabs) and love dark, moist places during the day. At night, they emerge to feed on decaying plant material. They also feed on tender green plants, such as garden seedlings and can be a nuisance. Pillbugs can roll up for protection, while sowbugs cannot. Photo: Bart Drees.
These beautifully-colored dung beetles make quick work of cattle and horse manure throughout the year. The males (with horn, left) and females (without horn, right) seek out fresh droppings and bury them underground. These beetles serve to add nutrients to the soil and get rid of manure...all while feeding their offspring! Photo: Bart Drees.
Rhinoceros Beetle Grubs
These giant grubs can be found feeding on rotting trees, compost piles, under hay bales and other rotting plant material. Unlike their small cousins, the white June beetle grubs, they DO NOT damage plants or grass of any kind. Development to the adult stage takes 2 to 3 years.
Rhinoceros Beetle Grubs Under Hay
These old hay bales were overturned to reveal the crop of developing rhinoceros beetle grubs feeding underneath.
Rhinoceros beetles are some of the largest scarab beetles in our area. They vary in color from brown to green, as shown here with this female Hercules beetle. Rhino beetle males usually have some sort of horn on their heads, while the females do not. The larvae (very large grubs) feed on compost, rotting trees, and rotting vegetation (not plants). Photo: Bart Drees.
Earwigs are curious creatures and bring about horror stories of crawling inside one's ears to sleep. The truth is that they feed on decaying plant materials in moist environments and occasionally nibble on tender green plants. Photo: Bart Drees.
Termites are perhaps the most prevalent decomposer insect on earth and represent a vast majority of the biomass in rain forests. They feed on decaying plant materials in the soil and can actually digest wood. Yes, they cause massive damage to structures, but breaking down old wood is their most beneficial duty. Without them, wood in the soil would take much longer to decay and break down. Photo: Bart Drees