With the arrival of winter-like weather, many of us will be firing up the fireplace. When bringing wood inside for the fire, we can sometimes bring some unexpected hitchhikers. Many insects and other critters will use firewood (or wood in general) as a food source or a place to overwinter. Fortunately, for the most part, they pose little to no threat to us or our homes.
While traveling through the Midwest on leaf peeping adventures, modern day explorers may find a rather nondescript tree with unique, distinct fruit. A medium-sized tree adorned with large, round, chartreuse colored fruit can be easily identified as Maclura pomifera, or Osage orange. Although ordinary in appearance for most of the year, and not often planted today, this species has an extraordinary tale to tell.
Most people are familiar with praying mantids. These large predatory insects are a common site in the fall, and we often encounter their egg cases (ootheca) this time of year too. But did you know that three different species of praying mantids, the native Carolina mantid and the introduced Chinese and European mantids, can be found in Illinois?
While praying mantids are a welcome sight to some, others are concerned about the presence of the non-native species.
As we transition from summer to fall and the temperatures start cooling off, many of us will be spending more time outdoors. While enjoying our time outdoors, we often encounter various insets we may not have seen or noticed earlier in the growing season. One such insect is the unusual, and to some scary, looking wheel bug.
As we approach fall, the days are getting shorter, and the temperatures are starting to cool off. As this happens, we can start seeing changes in the landscape. Many of our landscape plants are beginning to look a little ragged this time of year. While others, like goldenrod and asters, are in their full glory, and before we know it, trees and shrubs will start displaying their fall colors. While our plants are preparing themselves for winter, so are insects.
A tale of two articles
Have you read some of the headlines lately concerning monarch butterflies? “Monarch Butterflies are Thriving!” “Monarch Butterflies are Endangered!” Both these headlines (or something similar) recently saturated newsfeeds for Americans. Considering these stories came out about two weeks apart, what is a person to think? Are monarch butterflies okay? Or are they in peril? As you may have gathered with headlines like this, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.
Spider mites are a common pest on many types of plants. The most commonly encountered species is the twospotted spider mite (Tetranychus urticae). While we often think of them attacking houseplants, particularly during the winter months, they can also be a problem on fruits, vegetables, and landscape plants, particularly during hot, dry weather.
There are a variety of insects that will feed on squash. One of the more troublesome, and potentially devastating, is the squash vine borer. If you've grown squash and had a runner or two start wilting, there's a good chance you've had an encounter with squash vine borer.
One of the most exciting times of the year is the first appearance of small flashing yellow lights in the evenings. The arrival of fireflies or lightning bugs, depending on where you’re from, is a sure sign that summer has arrived. Because of their magical displays, fireflies are one of the few insects that people don’t actively try to kill. However, in many places, people are noticing fewer of them than in the past.
Now that we are spending more time outside, you might be noticing more and more mounds or ridges of soil popping up in your lawn. There are a few different animals that like to make these mounds, but often the main culprit is the mole.
Winter may be an odd time to write about an insect that we only see during the warmer months of the year. Yet, I can’t help but marvel at the architecture of the baldfaced hornet’s nest, which has been revealed in the canopy of trees after leaf drop. This winter I have seen several baldfaced hornet nests in trees. The nest itself is a beautiful oblong structure, that is papery and grayish but if inspected closely it has waves of dark and light colors washing over its surface.
We often don’t think much about insect pests outside of the occasional pantry pest or accidental invader during the winter months. Despite it being the middle of winter, that doesn’t mean our plants won’t have insect problems. This is particularly true for houseplants, where insect pests often seem to arrive out of nowhere.
As the crisp cool air of fall approaches, you might enjoy warming up with a sweatshirt or cuddling up with an additional blanket, and you are not alone! Many insects and other pests are making plans to move somewhere warm to survive the winter, and often that place is your home.
Fall armyworms are here, and can you say destructive? Some entomologists have even said it is the worst they have seen in 30 years! Damage done by fall armyworms this year has been seen in lawns, hayfields, pastures, soybeans, corn, and gardens.
With a large appetite and their habit of “marching” in large numbers, FAW can do some damage in just a few days.
Milkweeds have become a popular garden plant the last several years. They are most commonly planted to help support monarch butterflies because milkweeds are the sole food source for monarch caterpillars.
Milkweeds contain toxic compounds (cardiac glycosides) to deter animals (insects and mammals) from feeding on them. However, monarchs have evolved to be able to feed on these plants. Additionally, they can take these chemicals and incorporate them into their bodies, making them unpalatable as well.
There’s nothing more devastating than walking out to your garden to discover your squash plants are wilted or dead. An insect known as the squash vine borer is one that will cause damage to your cucurbit plants by tunneling into the stems. Once you have had an encounter with squash vine borer, it is one you will never forget.
While it may seem like every insect out there is trying to eat your plants, not all the insects you see in your garden are pests. In fact, fewer than 1% of all insects are considered pests, meaning the vast majority are beneficial or, at the very least, benign.
After some up and down temperatures earlier this year, it seems summer has settled in for good. While a lot of the work we do in the garden happens in the spring, that doesn’t mean we can coast through the summer. Here are some things we can be doing in our landscapes to help keep them going through the summer.
When it comes to invasive insects, much of our attention is directed towards those that cause a great deal of damage, such as Japanese beetles and emerald ash borer. However, there are some other invasive insects present in Illinois that pose a threat to our plants and even us that you should be aware of.
The Asian longhorned beetle is a non-native pest that threatens a number of hardwood trees in North America. The larva damage living trees as they tunnel through.
Spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) is a newer invasive pest in the United States that has the potential to become a serious pest across a large part of the United States, including Illinois.
What do they look like?
Adult spotted lanternflies are about 1 inch long. The front pair of wings are gray with black spots, and the tips of the front wings have speckled bands. The back pair of wings are red with black spots and a white band. Their heads and legs are black, and the abdomens are yellow with black bands.
They’re baaaack. If you’ve spent much time outdoors recently, there’s a chance you’ve had an encounter with buffalo gnats.
Emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis) or EAB has cut a wide swath of destruction across a large portion of the United States, including Illinois. EAB has been responsible for the death of tens, if not hundreds, of million ash (Fraxinus spp.) trees, which has led to drastic changes in some communities and landscapes.
Butterflies are among the most popular, if not the most popular, insects out there. In fact, many cultures around the world use a butterfly as a symbol of the human soul. Many people consider a butterfly landing on you to be good luck, for example, this Irish blessing:
Wasps have an undeserved bad reputation. While some species can be a tad on the aggressive side, they are, as a whole, rather beneficial. Admittedly they can be intimidating insects, particularly large ones.
This year we have received more reports about large wasps than usual. Perhaps it’s because we’re spending more time at home and out in our landscapes. Maybe it’s because of the excitement over "murder hornets" - which are not in Illinois.
Like a lot of parents right now in the US, we have decided to homeschool our children. Right now, I’m trying to remember what in the heck did I do in third grade? Time to brush up on the reading, writing, and arithmetic skills. Side note, I should probably start a therapy fund for my kids when they get older.
One subject I have a bit of experience with is science. It was always my favorite subject in school, after recess of course. You might be thinking, how am I going to teach science? I don’t have Bunsen burners and beakers. Fortunately, science is all around us.
Several different types of caterpillars will feed on tomatoes. The most well-known, and probably most dreaded, are the tomato (Manduca quinquemaculata) and tobacco (Manduca sexta) hornworms. These large (up to 4 inches long) green caterpillars have a prominent “horn” on their rear end (thus their name) and can do quite a bit of damage to tomato plants.
Ladybugs, ladybirds, or more appropriately lady beetles (they are beetles, not bugs after all) are common insects in the landscape. They are one of the darlings of the insect world. They’re commonly found on stationery and clothing, and they are even featured in nursery rhymes and songs. They are also one of the few insects people are excited to have land on them since many believe they bring good luck.
Now that we are spending more time outside, you might be noticing more and more mounds or ridges of soil popping up in your lawn. There are a few different animals that like to make these mounds, but often times the main culprit is the mole.
Home remedies abound in the horticultural world. Some gardeners swear by their mixtures of a little bit of this and a little bit of that, but Extension does not readily recommend the use of homemade pesticides. Perhaps your anti-Japanese beetle potion warded off the critters last year. But what if you get the amount of ingredients out of balance next time or what is happening in the long-term to your plants, soil, and environment? Salt and vinegar are two common ingredients in many purported weed remedies found on the internet.
Cucumbers, melons, squash, and pumpkins are collectively known as cucurbits. Because these crops are related, they are afflicted with many of the same pests and diseases. Here are some of the most commonly encountered pests and diseases in cucurbits.
Tomatoes are the most commonly grown plant in the home vegetable garden. Tomatoes are relatively easy to grow, and there is a wide variety of different types. If you’re growing tomatoes, you’ll more than likely encounter a few pests and diseases along the way. So, let’s take a moment and talk about some common issues we encounter when growing tomatoes.
With the holidays approaching, many of us will be doing a lot of baking. Others of us may be buying birdseed to feed our feathered friends this winter. Occasionally some uninvited guests may show up in these products or where you store them - pantry pests.
As the weather gets colder and the days get shorter uninvited house guests often start showing up in our homes. A variety of insects and other creepy crawlies will seek out shelter in our homes to pass the winter. Some of our most frequent guests are box elder bugs, multicolored Asian lady beetles and brown marmorated stink bugs.
We bought a home! After six years of living in a townhouse on the edge of Macomb, we have started to burst at the seams. In that time, we have accumulated quite a few occupants in our current dwelling. Now with three kids, one dog, a cat, and a couple of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, it was time to hunt for something a bit bigger that would fit our growing family.
There are many ways we mark the end of summer. Some refer to the beginning of school or the closing of the pool, while others view Labor Day as the ‘unofficial end of summer’. Another way, if you’re more entomologically inclined, is the appearance of fall webworm.
Is it a bee? Is it a wasp? No, it’s a syrphid fly, and they are rather abundant this year. We’ve had several questions come into our offices about them. While at a cookout with my family this weekend, we got to experience dozens of them flying around and occasionally landing on us.
Blossom end rot is the scourge of many tomato growers. In addition to tomatoes, it can also be found in peppers, eggplant as well as squash and watermelons. When it comes to tomatoes, it is most commonly seen on larger fruited varieties, with long-fruited varieties (Roma type) being more susceptible than round varieties. Blossom end rot starts as a light tan water-soaked lesion (spot) at the end of the fruit where the blossom was (opposite end from the stem). The lesion will continue to grow and eventually turn black and leathery.
Tomatoes are one of the most commonly grown vegetables in home gardens. While tomatoes are relatively easy to grow there are a few diseases you should keep your eye out for. Two of the most common diseases people encounter are early blight and Septoria leaf spot. Both of these diseases are caused by fungi. Consistently wet conditions are required for both of these diseases to develop, which we've had plenty of.
As summer kicks into high gear, we often start to see more pest problems. An important and often overlooked part of pest management is scouting. It can help you figure out what is going on in your garden/landscape and help you determine if you need to take any action to manage any pests that are present (particularly if you are going to be using pesticides).
It's about that time of year, time for Japanese beetles...
If you've ever grown squash or pumpkins (or other cucurbits, like cucumbers) then you've likely encountered squash bugs. Squash bug (Asasa tristis) adults are brownish-black and about 5/8 of an inch long. The adults will overwinter in protected areas (under plant debris, around buildings, etc.) and emerge in the spring. When they emerge they will seek out cucurbit plants to feed on as well as mate. Females will lay clusters of about 20 bronze colored eggs on the undersides of leaves, commonly where two veins meet to form a V, or on stems.
I've been seeing mosquitoes and ticks for several weeks already, and as the weather gets warmer they'll get more numerous. Not only are these critters annoying, many are also capable of transmitting a variety of diseases.
Each fall, as temperatures diminish and day length gets shorter, Asian lady beetles begin to accumulate around larger buildings. They're getting ready to go into their winter habitat, which in their native Asia, is sheltered areas along a mountain side. It's hard to find very many mountain sides in Illinois, so they're seeking out the closest alternative, larger buildings.
Lady beetles are predators. Their favorite food is aphids. The years we have high soybean aphid populations are the years in which Asian lady beetle populations are huge as well.