Invertebrates – gardener’s friend or foe? And what are they exactly?

Invertebrates are creatures which do not have a backbone, or spine. About 95% of known animal species are classed as invertebrates. They can be found in salt / marine water, fresh water and on land, which includes your garden.

Whilst all insects belong to this group, so do centipedes and spiders. The easiest way to categorise garden invertebrates is to look at what they eat. This gives us four main groups: –

  • Herbivores
  • Detritivores
  • Omnivores
  • Predators

These eat living plants. This could be a wide range of plants or just a few or even just one species. Herbivores may have chewing mouth parts, such as caterpillars; or sucking mouth parts, for example aphids. As they eat plants, they may eat ones you don’t want them to!

These feed not on live plants but on decaying organic matter; This could be plant or animal in origin. Although some do eat fungi and algae. Detritivores are important as they help recycle dead material in the garden, both in and out of the compost heap. Woodlice and springtails belong to this group.

Omnivores eat both plants and other invertebrates. A good tactic as it gives them adaptable should one food source become scarce. Common earwigs belong to this group, and eat aphids as well as leaves.

As you’d expect, these hunters eat other invertebrates. The group includes ladybirds (who eat aphids among other bugs) and spiders. A vital part of a healthy ecosystem, and friends to the organic gardener by eating many of the herbivores.

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