Gray hairstreak butterfly (Strymon melinus) feeding on a Coreopsis flower. Flower has bright yellow petals with a dark red center

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:

picture of a European hornet on a leaf, a cicada killer on a leaf, and a baldfaced hornet on flowers

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.

monarch butterfly resting on a finger

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.

a large tobacco hornworm feeding on a tomato leaf

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.

a pink spotted lady beetle on a strawberry flower

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.

mole peeking head out of soil

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 Horticultural Remedies

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.

squash bug nymphs feeding on pumpkin vines

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.

a green tobacco hornworm on a tomato stem

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.

A bowl of white flour in a glass bowl on a wooden counter

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. These insects live, eat, and grow inside stored products like birdseed, dry pet food, and dry food products (oatmeal, rice, pasta, flour, chocolate, etc.) as well as other dried plant materials (dried flower arrangements, ornamental corn, etc.).

Boxelder bugs congregating on the outside of a home

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.

sunshine through ash tree leaves

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.

fall webworm webbing on tree branch with caterpillars inside

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.

Black and yellow syrphid flies feeding on rose

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.

tomato plant

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.

japanese beetle

It's about that time of year, time for Japanese beetles...

squash bugs

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.

mosquito on a human arm

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.

beetles dead on window sill

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.