BOOMbox at Home: Summer Insects

An insect with a bluish tint rests on a yellow sunflower.

Summer insects may be annoying or loud, but they're essential! Let's learn more about common insects we experience in hot weather.

Brood X Cicadas

Have you been waiting for an adventure involving cicadas? Well, you may have to wait a little longer. Sorry to say, but the highly anticipated Brood X cicadas this summer do not appear in northern Illinois. If you’ve been waiting for them to pop out of the soil, you’ll have to sit tight until 2024. According to the University of Illinois Extension, we will have the annual or “dog day” cicadas that we hear every summer evening, but it isn't our turn for 17-year broods. You’ll still hear the annual male cicadas making a ruckus in the afternoons and evenings. 

When the periodical cicadas appear in northern Illinois in 2024, there’s a good chance that it will be one of the largest anywhere in the United States. The University of Illinois Extension reports that this brood was enormous during the 2007 and 1990 seasons. You (or your parents) may remember shoveling them in 2007. Read cicada facts as well as watch videos and play bug games.

For most of us, cicadas and all their bug friends are just annoying. They land on your picnic food. They buzz in your ears, and don’t even get us started on the ones that sting and bite! As much as we’re annoyed by insects, can you imagine how annoyed they are by us? Insects are the dominant species on Earth. According to the World Animal Foundation, nearly 90% of all life forms are insects, so we’re just taking up space on their planet.

The Good, the Bad, the Not So Ugly

More than a million species of insects live on Earth. Beetles are the largest group of insects; one out of every four insects is a beetle. While we may not love most beetles, who doesn’t love the adorable ladybug? In fact, we like them so much that many cultures consider ladybugs to be good luck. Although the 5,000 species of ladybugs come in many different colors, the most recognizable one in North America is the seven-spotted ladybug, which is red with black spots. Read ladybug facts and all about beetles.

Insects eat more plants than any other animals. In addition to providing food for other animals, insects pollinate flowers and crops and produce honey, wax, and silk. With all the good they do, you would think we’d all love them, but we don’t.

Farmers don’t like most insects because they destroy crops and spread disease. They do like ladybugs because they eat aphids, which destroy more plants than any other insect. Gardeners also worry about insects, despite the fact that gardens would not exist without them. About two-thirds of all flowering plants are pollinated by insects. Many insects also help create humus, by moving through soil, creating air pockets, and mixing up the decomposing materials that create rich soil.

They Really Bug Me

Of all the many insects we dislike, the one we love to hate is mosquitoes. Aside from the itchy, annoying bite, mosquitoes spread some of the world’s most deadly diseases, including malaria, yellow fever, West Nile virus, encephalitis, Zika, and dengue. 

Mosquito “bites” really aren’t bites. Female mosquitoes pierce your skin using a special mouth part (called a proboscis) to suck blood. As the mosquito is feeding, it injects saliva into your skin, which is what creates the itchy bump. Read more about what happens when a mosquito bites you.

Mosquitoes may be called the biggest killers on Earth, but just like every other critter, they also play an important role in their habitats. As much as we’d love to have a mosquito-free planet, we cannot. They are important food sources and plant pollinators--learn about their role in many ecosystems.

Why My Blood?

What attracts mosquitoes to certain people? They are attracted by what you wear, how you smell, what you eat, your blood type, and other factors. Seems like mosquitoes like dark, bold colors and floral prints. Loose bottoms and long-sleeve shirts in light colors are your best option to avoid mosquitoes.

Forget anything that smells like a flower, including soaps and lotions. They also like smelly feet and sweat. Eating and drinking strong-smelling foods also attract mosquitoes, except for garlic. Scientists are finding that mosquitoes like some blood more than others. Watch why some people seem to be immune to mosquitoes and five things that make you a mosquito magnet.

Keep Them Away Naturally

There are some natural mosquito repellents. If you try them, be sure to follow their safety advice. Do not apply essential oils directly to your skin. They’re meant to be diluted with carrier oils, like almond oil, that aren’t irritating to skin. For gardeners, one way to help keep them away from your patio or balcony is to plant some of the following:

  • Floss flowers
  • Catnip
  • Basil
  • Sage
  • Marigolds
  • Peppermint
  • Lemon balm
  • Lavender
  • Citronella geranium

Want to learn more about insects? Visit these resources:

For young bug lovers (videos):

Scientist of the Week

Dr. V. Shubhalaxmi is India’s leading entomologist (insect scientist). She is the first Indian entomologist to focus on studying moths. After more than 20 years working on moth research, she earned the nickname “Moth Lady.” She wrote India's first Field Guide to Indian Moths, which identifies 773 species of Indian moths. She also gave common names to many of those species.

Dr. Shubhalaxmi has worked as both an entomologist and a conservation educator. Recently, she combined all of her interests to create Ladybird Environmental Consulting, which helps corporations and government agencies develop environmental projects and products. Her business designs and creates butterfly gardens, helps improve wildlife habitats, and organizes volunteer programs for companies that want to be socially responsible. The organization also includes virtual volunteering workshops to help your environment from home.

Written by Pam.