2020 Year in Review – Insects

The year is winding down and it has been a doozy! We have seen an exponential growth in the green industry, thanks in part to people staying home for the pandemic. More people tried gardening this year than I can recall ever before. At the season’s end, I like to take the time to go over the big things I saw this year-both personally and professionally.

a young bagworm moth caterpillar
A newly hatched bagworm


As usual, bagworms seem to take the forefront of the conversation. I do not recall a worse year for these pests. We had good rain in the spring and summer, followed by drought this fall. Heat was the main focus of the weather, resulting in unusual hatching patterns, and a possible second generation of bagworms.

In most years, bagworms feed mainly on evergreens and some shade trees. However, this year, they were on everything, including roses, coreopsis, and everything in between. How so many bagworms got to all these different plants, when 2019’s crop of these insects was not significant may remain a mystery.

Japanese Beetles

Wheel bug eating a Japanese beetle
A wheel bug dines on a Japanese Beetle

I know that we will continue to see Japanese beetles from now on, as they have permanently established in the area. However, we know more about their biology and what treatments work best for removing or killing them.

One of the most interesting thing over the last 4 years since Japanese beetles started moving through Northeast Kansas, is the significant rise in assassin bugs.

Assassin Bugs

This group of insects includes wheel bugs, ambush bugs, and various other assassin type bugs. Of these, the wheel bug, so named for its gear-like projection on its back, has increased more than others as Japanese beetles have spread. The reason? Because wheel bugs eat Japanese beetles, along with a host of other insects.

While it is great that we have natural predators for Japanese beetles, an increase in wheel bug populations may mean a decline in bees, butterflies, and other insects. All assassin bugs feed on a variety of insects, both good and bad.

I do not recommend killing assassin bugs, but maybe just flicking them off pollinator plants if there are no Japanese beetles nearby. This may save a few bees and butterflies for the rest of us.


Every spring I hear the same thing from gardeners everywhere; where are the bees? I have not noticed a decline in my area of any type of bees, from wild honeybees to eastern bumblebees. In fact, this year I saw more bumblebee varieties than in the last 3 years combined.

bumblebee on wingstem
Bumblebee on wingstem

When I was expecting to see butterflies, I saw bumblebees. Looking for moths, I saw bumblebees. I can attribute some of the increase in bumblebees to last year’s weather, but also to the diversified landscape in which I live.


This year I identified 4 species of caterpillars which I had never seen before, though finding them should not have been difficult. Looking along the forested lake edges I found my first sighting of the Giant Swallowtail butterfly. And then, I found one of these butterflies laying eggs on the prickly-ash in my woodland garden area! It is amazing that they look like bird droppings!

Giant swallowtail butterfly caterpillar on prickly-ash
Giant Swallowtail butterfly caterpillar on Prickly-Ash

A trip to a large stand of pawpaw trees by Atchison, KS led me to seeing my first Zebra Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars!

zebra swallowtail butterfly caterpillar
Zebra swallowtail butterfly caterpillar on pawpaw

While I was walking my dog in our backyard, I found my first ever Viceroy Butterfly caterpillar happily munching away on some seedling cottonwoods.

viceroy butterfly caterpillar on cottonwood
Viceroy butterfly caterpillar on cottonwood

And finally, on a prairie walk I found the gorgeous American Lady Butterfly caterpillar on sweet everlasting.

American lady butterfly caterpillar on sweet everlasting
American lady butterfly caterpillar on sweet everlasting

Beetles and Borers

While it is unconfirmed by the Kansas Department of Agriculture, we can be fairly sure we saw our first EAB in Brown county. This does not surprise me, I have been expecting it for years.

I love insects, and I seek out certain species when I get the chance. This was the case for the Amorpha borer beetle, a beautiful black and yellow long-horned beetle that feeds on goldenrod and lays eggs on Amorpha fruticosa. I first saw this beetle in the fall of 2019, so I was prepared to look for it again this year. And I found 2 instead of 1!

Amorpha borer on goldenrod
Beautiful amorpha borer on goldenrod

One of the coolest finds in any year is a tortoise beetle. Many species of these beetles have transparent edges and bright colors. This mottled tortoise beetle (below) is one of the prettiest.

mottled tortoise beetle
Mottled tortoise beetle on my finger

Egg Masses

Every year I see the same questions posted: What are these egg things on my plant? Most of the time, egg masses can be difficult to identify, even for an expert. But the most common egg mass is that of some species of stink bug. Sting bugs lay 30 to 60 eggs together under leaves.

stink bug egg mass and hatchlings
Newly hatched stinkbugs gather to feed in mass


Insects are part of our ecosystems and we can learn to love them. However, learning proper identification for these wonders should take place before anyone thinks about treatment. Get to know your world!

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