Common Midwestern Garden Insects
What Lurks in Your Yard?
In your garden, there are thousands of bugs lurking about. If you are lucky, you can witness some of the most interesting and beautiful insects visiting your yard. Some of them are very good garden helpers, while others are the types you want to keep away from your garden. This article will feature some of the most common you may happen upon in your Midwest garden as well as some tips to attract the good ones you want returning to your garden every growing season.
Bees are in trouble. With the increase of heavy pesticide use by farmers and individuals, their numbers are diminishing. Bees are very important to us because without them, more than half the produce you see in the supermarket would not be available. Pollination is required to grow them and without bees to do this job, we are in serious trouble. You don't have to become a bee keeper in order to do your part to keep their numbers strong. Simply adding a few of their favorite sources of pollen can help them along the way.
Here are a few suggested plants that have been tried and verified in my own garden to keep the bees visiting:
- Bee Balm (Monarda)
- Purple Coneflower
- Globe Thistle
Common Bee Types
There are a few types of bees that I see every year in my yard here in Illinois. All are important pollinators with different habits and nesting sites, but only one gives us the added benefit of yummy honey!
Honey Bee: These bees form the biggest colonies, with anywhere from 50,000 to 60,000 worker bees in one hive (located in traditional nests, such as hives located in trees and man-made bee keeper hives). This is where all of our honey comes from. Different types of honey are produced from different types of plants as their main source of pollen and nectar. Clover honey is from just that, bees feasting on clover.
Mason Bee: Very similar to honey bees in looks, but they are burrowers. They commonly burrow into the ground or in nooks. These are the bees most commonly found in man-made bee houses. Mason bees are very docile unless they are provoked. They are also considered solitary in nature since they do not commune in large hives. They are very good pollinators as well.
Bumble Bee/Common Eastern Bumble Bee: These are the fat, fuzzy bees you see flying around. The common bumble bee is all yellow with black stripes. The eastern bumble bee, which seems to be prevalent in my garden, are yellow with black butts. They are docile and reside in small colonies of 150 bees or less. Their habitat is versatile and they are very adaptable.
Not all moths are considered pests. Many are very beneficial pollinators.
Hummingbird Moth aka Sphinx Moth: Is it a hummingbird? No! That's a hummingbird moth which looks very similar to an actual hummingbird until you go in close for a better inspection. Their coloring is the same as the bird and the way they hover and flutter when gathering pollen is the same. If you happen to see one of these beauties in your yard, be thankful! Even though they are common, their sightings are considered rare. They are excellent pollinators.
Here are some things to attract these awesome looking creatures to your yard:
- Larvae Host Stage: Honeysuckle, Viburnum and Hawthorne.
- Adult Stage: Butterfly Bush, Phlox, Lantana, Milkweed, Thistle, White-Fringed Orchid (Endangered in Illinois)
Banded Tussock Moth
I came upon this little creature while hiking in my local forest preserve and just had to include it here. The Banded Tussock Moth, also known as, the Pale Tiger Moth can be found from Southern Canada through to Texas and central Florida. It is found primarily in forested areas, but can visit garden sites as well. The caterpillars are extremely fuzzy and remain in this state from July through frost in Midwestern areas. It feeds on Alder, Ash, Birch, Blueberries, Chestnut, Hackberries, Oak, Walnut and Willows. As an adult, the pale striping on its wings help it blend in to tree barks as a type of camouflage.
Use extreme caution when attempting to handle any fuzzy caterpillars, as some of them secrete a toxin as a defense mechanism, which can cause skin irritation and allergic reactions. Fortunately, this little guy isn't one of those, but best to err on the side of caution if you cannot positively identify it.
Butterflies are an important part of a healthy ecosystem in your garden. They attract other beneficial insects, but also can be a food source for other animals, such as reptiles and birds, which in turn will also consume some of those bad garden pests. An added bonus to having butterflies in your yard is the sheer beauty of these insects. Below is a chart of the most common butterflies in the Midwest region listing their host plants in the larval stage and their most sought after nectar plants in the butterfly stage. You will notice many of the types of plants overlap from butterfly type to butterfly type. Planting a few of these may cause several types of butterflies to visit your garden.
Plantain, Snapdragon, Flax, Vervain
Asters, Butterfly Bush, Mums, Cosmos (esp the orange colored varieties), Verbena
Ash, Tulip Tree, Black Cherry, Chokeberry, Magnolia
Apple, Crabapple, Plum, Butterfly Bush, Purple Coneflower, Wild Bergamot, Oriental Lilies
Bronze Fennel, Dill, Parsley, Cilantro, Celery, Anise, Carrot, Queen Anne's Lace
Joe Pye Weed, Zinnia, Milkweed, Liatris, Rosinweed, Lantana, Clover, Verbena, Marigold
Weeds, especially those in the Thistle Family
Purple Coneflower, Aster, Mums, Milkweed, Clover, Over-ripe fruit/sap
Thistles, Hollyhock and others from the Mallow family
Butterfly Bush, Lilacs, Milkweed, Aster, Mums, Purple Coneflower, Joe Pye Weed, Globe Thistle
Joe Pye Weed, Zinnia, Aster, Mums, Purple Coneflower, Cosmos, Liatris
Willow Trees and Shrubs, Cottonwood Trees
Butterfly Bush, Joe Pye Weed, Black-eyed Susans, Goldenrod
Cleome, Nasturtiums, Cabbage, Collards, Broccoli, Radish
Russian Sage, Clover, Aster, Mints, Dandelion
Clover, Soybean, Leadplant
Aster, Coreopsis, Vervain
Beetles: The Bugs not the Band
Big and small, good guys and bad guys make up this category. There are over 2,000 different types of lightning bugs alone!
Lightning Bugs aka Fireflies: Who doesn't love a lightning bug? Their butts light up delighting kids and adults alike. Nothing harkens in mid-summer like seeing lightning bugs blinking on and off during dusk. Their rears are made of bioluminescence that is used to attract mates and also attract their prey, which is other smaller bugs. Their primary diet consists of pollen and nectar, which help pollinate crops.
Pennsylvania Leatherwing Beetle aka Soldier Beetle: This beetle is common throughout the eastern and Midwestern states, not just Pennsylvania as the name suggests. You can find this beetle on flowers late summer through late fall. Because of their large numbers and very voracious appetite for pollen, they make excellent pollinators. They also provide an added benefit of consuming some of the bad bugs lurking in your garden like cucumber beetles and grasshopper eggs.
Lady Beetle aka Ladybug: Perhaps the most recognized beetle of them all is the Lady Beetle. These bugs provide extraordinary pest control by eating Aphids and Scale insects. Common colors for them are yellow, red and orange. They can sometimes be a nuisance to people if they get into homes, since they like to overwinter in walls or attic spaces. Regardless, they are generally harmless.
Cucumber Beetle: There are two types of Cucumber Beetles; striped or spotted. Both have a yellow body with black markings. They will feast on your cucumbers, melons and squashes. You can recognize the damage these insects cause: chewed leaves, scarring on fruits and bacterial wilt caused by a bacterium that is secreted by the chewing beetles. Taking care of the problem early is encouraged because if left alone, they will attract even more beetles to come feast on your plants. There are a few ways to deal with the problem:
- plant your cucumbers later in the spring
- Hand-pick any beetles you see and destroy them
- Don't compost damaged plants
- Use floating row covers
- Trim any damaged leaves early to prevent the bacterial wilt from spreading
Bean Beetle aka Mexican Bean Beetle: These are the bane of my existence. They are similar looking to the Cucumber Beetle but with rounder bodies. They love consuming the leaves of bean plants, both pole types and bush types, although supposedly they prefer the pole types. It has been my experience that they love the bush types just as much. They will skeletonize the leaves of a plant quickly if not put into check early on. Here are some tips to deal with them:
- Hand pick and destroy
- Check the underside of leaves where they like to lay their eggs and destroy any eggs you see
- Plant Rosemary with your beans. Rosemary is thought to be a deterrent to these pests.
Grapevine Hoplia Beetle aka Spotted June Beetle: These Scarab family beetles are found in the eastern half of the US and Canada. They are fast fliers who consume both the leaves and fruit of grapevines, hence the name. They aren't a major problem in the Midwest, as they are in other areas. They like to lay their eggs in rotted wood, tree stumps and soil. You may see them lurking in your garden or near any light source, as they are attracted to lights.
If you live near a pond, stream or still body of water, you would at some point in your life witness the splendor that is Dragonflies and Damselflies. They are the fastest flying insects in the world! They can fly backwards, hover and even change direction in mid-air! There are over 5,900 different species of Dragonfly, so it is hard to condense them all here. There are, however, two types that I see frequently in my yard. All Dragonflies are excellent for pest control because they eat mosquitoes, flies, ants and wasps!
Red-Veined Darter: This type is common in the US, Ireland, Britain and North Africa. The male is a bright red with transparent wings and just a hint of a dot on each wing. The females are a light brown color. As like all Dragonflies, you can find them near shallow lakes, small ponds and still or slow moving waters. Having a water source on your property like a birdbath or small water feature is a great way to attract them to your yard.
Common Green Darner: These Dragonflies are the most common and abundant type in North America. They are one of the largest types, measuring 3 inches long with a 3 inch wingspan! They are very hard to miss when resting on a leaf or reed. Interesting tidbit, they are the official state insect of Washington state.
Some Other Interesting Insects
Here are a few others I have seen lurking in my garden worth a mention:
Praying Mantis: Is it Praying or Preying? Technically speaking, it is called Praying because of the way their front arms come together while standing on it's hind quarters, but they also are great predators, that feast on Aphids and Flies. They come in colors of green and brown primarily, which help camouflage them while searching for prey. Their sharp mandibles slice through hard-bodied insects with ease and their compounded eyes help them search for prey that can be 60 feet away. An added bonus to these creatures is that they like to supplement their diets with pollen, thus helping to pollinate your plants.
Orb Weaver Spider: I have to be honest, I used to be deathly afraid of spiders. I can now tolerate them and even celebrate them out in the garden. I still don't like them in my house though! Phobias aside, they are a very beneficial insect to have in your yard because they consume all of the bad bugs. These spiders are called orb weavers because of their elaborate, circular webs that react like Velcro to capture their prey. They build a new web every single day near the old web. They are great composters because they eat the old webs, leaving nothing behind! They are most active during the evening hours. Although they are non-poisonous, spider bites still hurt, so be cautious when working around one in your yard. I've had to relocate a few of them from the place I was working in. They are very docile.
Differential Grasshopper: These interesting looking Grasshoppers can be found everywhere now in the US, Canada and Mexico. They are generally considered bad bugs because of their tendency to swarm in large masses to consume farmer's crops like corn and fruit crops. They are a terrible pest. I generally give them a pass if I see one in my yard. One isn't a problem, but when you start seeing several, then you might want to monitor the situation. They do have natural predators like birds and reptiles. Making sure you have birds visiting your yard by enticing them with birdbaths and feeders can help prevent some of the bad bugs from taking over in your yard.
There are Lots of Bugs in Your Neighborhood
Just taking the time to inspect your garden can open up a whole new world of learning and witnessing some amazing bugs. Each has their place in the ecosystem (yes even the bad ones!) and is a great opportunity to teach children about nature, gardening and the environment. I hope you enjoyed the visual tour of my garden and hope you learned something along the way!
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© 2015 Lisa Roppolo