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Identification Guide to Common Springtime Insects and Bugs (With Photos)

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The spring azure butterfly, a common spring insect

The spring azure butterfly, a common spring insect

Springtime Insects of North America

Although most insects emerge once the warm weather and long days of summer are in full swing, some insects begin flying early in the spring, often before the leaves are out.

This guide illustrates and identifies the most common insects of spring in North America and, because some species occur on more than one continent, in other parts of the world as well – especially Europe.

It is intended for gardeners, naturalists, and anyone else with an abiding respect and appreciation for the natural world around them. I hope that this little guide brightens and enriches your spring days!

10 Springtime Insects of North America

  1. Cabbage white butterfly (Pieris rapae)
  2. Orange sulphur butterfly (Colias eurytheme)
  3. Boxelder bug
  4. Comma butterfly (Polygonia c-album)
  5. Spring azure butterfly (Celastrina ladon)
  6. Multicolored Asian lady beetle
  7. Bee flies (family Syrphidae and others)
  8. Larder beetle
  9. Red admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta)
  10. Brown marmorated stink bug
The cabbage white, one of the first insects of spring

The cabbage white, one of the first insects of spring

1. Cabbage White Butterfly (Pieris rapae)

This is the plain white butterfly that you will see in your garden, yard, or park. It is almost always the first butterfly of spring, fluttering among sprouting spinach, broccoli and cabbage plants; the females are looking to lay eggs that will hatch into very well-camouflaged green caterpillars. It's these caterpillars that chew holes in your leaves as the plant grows

This very common spring butterfly was introduced from Europe many years ago and has found a home everywhere from your backyard garden to the wilds of the western mountains.

The Basics:

  • What does it eat? Just about anything
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? Yes, especially cabbage and kale
  • Is it rare? No, this species has a wide range.
  • What is the scientific name? Pieris rapae
  • Where does it occur? This species occurs throughout North America.
  • Can you raise it from caterpillar to adult? Yes, if you really want to.
The orange sulphur butterfly, which flies in the spring

The orange sulphur butterfly, which flies in the spring

2. Orange Sulphur Butterfly (Colias eurytheme)

Like the cabbage white butterfly, the orange sulphur appears early in spring. There is another species, the clouded sulphur, that is nearly identical and may interbreed with the orange sulphur. In some cases only a specialist can tell them apart.

The caterpillars feed on alfalfa and grasses ad are seldom a pest, unless you are running an alfalfa farm. They often fly with the cabbage white, and may share some food plants.

There are several other yellow species in the genus Colias, and they all look pretty much alike to all but an entomologist.

The Basics:

  • What does it eat? Alfalfa and many other low plants
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? Yes, on occasion.
  • Is it rare? No, this species has a wide range.
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  • What is the scientific name? Colias eurytheme
  • Where does it occur? This species occurs throughout the eastern US.
  • Can you raise it from caterpillar to adult? Yes
A boxelder bug

A boxelder bug

3. Boxelder Bug

These medium-sized red and black insects feed on boxelder trees and other plants. They are completely harmless, although they may appear in numbers around your home once warm weather arrives. Since they are true bugs, the immature boxelder bugs look like miniature versions of the adults – they do not have caterpillars or other forms.

The only hazard from these little bugs is that they may stain fabric if you squash one in your drapes or on some other surfaces. The best way to deal with them is to either ignore them – they will soon move outside – or collect them with a dustbuster or vacuum and deposit them outside.

Comma butterfly

Comma butterfly

4. Comma Butterfly (Polygonia c-album)

This is one of the angle-wing butterflies and is common in spring, and again in late summer. It has a bright-orange upperside, but the underside of the wings is camouflaged to blend in perfectly with bark or dead leaves when the butterfly lands. There is a curved silver mark "comma" mark on the underwing, which gives the butterfly its name.

The Basics:

  • What does it eat? The caterpillar feeds on elms.
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? No
  • Is it rare? No
  • What is the scientific name? Polygonia c-album
  • Where does it occur? Throughout the eastern US, with similar species in the West
  • Can you raise it from caterpillar to adult? Yes, if you give it plenty of leaves from the food plant.
Spring azure buttefly

Spring azure buttefly

5. Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon)

This butterfly belongs to a large group of small butterflies known generally as "blues." The spring azure flies very early in the season, and can be seen at the first spring flowers in bloom. They are usually pale blue but may be nearly white, and their fluttering, nervous flight makes it hard to get a good view of their markings – there are many similar species, so what you take to be a spring azure may actually be one of its relatives.

The caterpillars are inconspicuous and slug-like. Many species of blues have a fascinating, complex relationship with ants.

The Basics:

  • What does it eat? These caterpillars eat a variety of flowering plants; they generally feed on the flowers.
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? No
  • Is it rare? Some of the blues, for example the Karner blue, are among the rarest of North American butterflies.
  • What is the scientific name? These butterflies are in the family Lycaenidae.
  • Where does it occur? These butterflies have a worldwide distribution.
  • Can you raise it from caterpillar to adult? Yes, if you give it plenty of leaves from the food plant.
common-insects-of-spring

6. Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle

These "ladybugs" tend to overwinter in groups at the base of trees and other sheltered spots, but they often find a place to gather in your basement or garage. In the spring they disperse and take up residence outside, but you may notice them crawling around your home as the weather warms.

They are virtually identical to familiar North American ladybugs, but those insects almost never enter your house, at least not in numbers. To deal with them, a dustbuster or vacuum can suck up an entire colony. What you do next is up to you.

One other note about these little beetles – they have been known to bite! It's not a big or traumatic bite, but it can be disconcerting to have an innocent little ladybug suddenly nip you when you least expect it.

common-insects-of-spring

7. Bee Flies (Family Syrphidae and Others)

These interesting insects arrive early in spring, before many plants have even leafed out. They will find the earliest blooms and hover around them like bees, which they mimic in order to gain protection. Some bee-flies are so convincing in their act that even experienced gardeners will assume they are bees and can sting. Since they are actually flies, however, they are harmless and cannot sting or bite.

The larvae occur on plants and are scavengers and predators, although they are very seldom seen or noticed.

Adult larder beetle

Adult larder beetle

8. Larder Beetle

Larder beetles often become apparent in the spring, when they adults may be found crawling or flying around your kitchen, but you may find them at any time of year. These beetles are a pest of stored grain like rice, and if you have a good sized colony they can really wreak havoc in your pantry. The larvae are the ones you will find in your pantry; the adult beetles eat meat and almost anything else, and can also be a pest.

The way to deal with an infestation of larder beetles is to throw away anything that appears infested, and probably most of all the other grains you have stored. This is unfortunate, but it's better than an ongoing infestation. Keep your stored foodstuffs tightly sealed and they beetles will not have a way in.

Red admiral butterfly, a species that flies in spring

Red admiral butterfly, a species that flies in spring

9. Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

Along with the cabbage white (above), the red admiral is usually among the first butterflies of spring. It flies fast but lands often, and has a tendency to choose proch railings and eaves, and sometimes even on people. The brown ground color, red bands, and camouflaged underside are good identification marks, as is the fact that you will see these butterflies quite early in spring, before nearly anything else is on the wing.

The Basics:

  • What does it eat? Like others in this group, the caterpillar feeds on nettles
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? No
  • Is it rare? No, but this species has a fairly limited range.
common-insects-of-spring

10. Brown Marmorated Stink Bug

These medium-sized brown bugs in the order Hemiptera (the "true bugs," and therefore properly called a "bug") have become more common in recent years. An import from China, they have found a suitable environment in and around houses in North America.

They have a complex brown and cream pattern, and the insect's back is designed as a shield, leading to some people calling them "shield bugs." They do not bite or eat stored kitchen items. The only drawback is that they can emit a foul odor if they feel threatened.

The best way to deal with marmorated stink bugs is to ignore them, or shoo them outside. Of all the insects that may invade your home from time to time, these little guys are among the least troubling.

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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