Our gardens and flowering pots spring back to life throughout April and May — but their arrival signals that “June” bugs are soon to follow. Many homeowners can’t help but notice a myriad of shiny beetles buzzing around their favorite planting beds, seasonal mulch or worse yet, flying around near the entryways of your home (just like mosquitos!). While they’re not particularly dangerous for your health, June bugs are indeed a hazard for many of the plants, flowers and backyard crops you may be planting right now for the summer season.
Calling them June bugs is a reference to a colloquial term, experts say, as there are actually well over 200 different species of bugs across North America. “June” bugs may go by different nicknames in various U.S. regions, “but they often get this moniker because the adults are commonly seen emerging in late Spring — usually, in May or June,” explains Avery Russell, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology at Missouri State University.
Whether you call them May-June beetles or screen-thumpers, these large pests are often seen gathering around exterior lights as the first sign they’ve chosen to settle in your own backyard. What other warning signs may clue you into an infestation, you may ask? Read on to learn more about June bugs’ threat to gardens, how they interact with your family, and how to get rid of them according to pest experts in academia as well as commercial pest removal.
What are June bugs — and what exactly do they do?
These pests are way too large for you to miss, and include common variations of Japanese beetles and European chafers, according to horticulture information published by the University of Wisconsin-Madison. They’re also sometimes referred to as scarab beetles — but there’s a good chance you know them as “May” bugs if you’re located in a region where temperatures are higher this month than those in the Northeast or Pacific Northwest.
“They’re probably most known for crashing into windows and screens at night if you leave the light on,” explains David Coyle, Ph.D., assistant professor of forest health and invasive species at Clemson University. “The larval form — or young — of these insects is called a white grub; if you’ve ever been digging in the garden and seen a ‘C’-shaped white grub in the spring and early summer, that’s probably a young June bug.”
June bugs can range in color, usually a shade of light brown or dark brown; each beetle-like bug has six legs that contain hair-like protrusions, as most other beetles do.
“Most folks can identify a June bug as a brown beetle that often can startle a person by flying into their face or hair,” explains Megan Wede, a pest control specialist, marketing lead and co-owner of Minnesota-based Done Right Pest Solutions. “Pets often eat them if they become a nuisance to the pet.”
Regardless of which stage of life they are at, June bugs can encroach on your garden and the plant life in and around your exterior spaces (as well as some indoor spots, too!). They’re known to feast on the leaves of garden plants, trees and shrubbery; while they aren’t usually able to kill plants off entirely until a major infestation has formed, Wede says they can destroy the outward appearance and profile of many of your leaves and flowers.
“There are many species of June bugs, some of which can feed on garden and landscape plants; in some cases, this feeding can be very severe and injure, or kill plants,” Coyle adds. “Most species, however, tend to feed on shrubs and trees, and their feeding damage can be barely noticeable.”
Sometimes, June bugs catch the flack for the trouble that larger animals that hunt them — including moles — bring to your garden. Usually, June bugs prefer to munch on turfgrass, and can cause large patches of this grass to wither and die; they may also prefer corn, roses and thin-skinned fruits in addition to the ornamental plants they’re known to gravitate towards, according to materials published by the University of Maine.
Can June bugs bite you? The real harm they pose:
While they can spell disaster for gardening perfectionists and purists, June bugs don’t pose any threat to humans, including children. “Their jaws are weak and can pinch, used only in defense,” Russell explains.
If you’ve heard of or have seen someone struggle with a June bug attached to their skin, it’s likely because these bugs have claws that “stick” to your fingers or hands, leading to a ticklish effect — but nothing dangerous, Coyle tells Good Housekeeping.
“June bugs don’t pose any threat to people or pets, and I’ve never known anyone or anything to be bitten by one of these beetles,” he says. “In fact, scarab beetles are revered in ancient Egyptian culture as they were seen as a symbol of renewal and rebirth, which is why you see this type of beetle featured on many ancient artifacts.”
Additionally, June bugs won’t threaten the structural integrity of the interiors of your home or its foundation, so don’t sweat it if one follows you inside. They’re intensely attracted to light, Wede says, and may get inside your home through an opening in doors or windows at night. “When this happens, they are — at most — annoying and considered gross. But there’s no risk to one’s home structurally.”
Signs of a June bug infestation
While they arrive in early summer in the form of larvae (or grubs!), most homeowners don’t realize their gardens or yards are being impacted by a June bug infestation until early fall when the weather tends to dry out. “Damage to leaves is often minor and largely unnoticeable, but damage by the larvae to turfgrass is the first thing many people notice, in dead grass patches,” Russell shares.
Because newborn June bugs burrow underground in yards and gardens, you may notice that holes are being dug by predators, per the U.S. Department of Agriculture — but this is a rare occurrence. Lawn conditions are often the first clue that you may be dealing with excessive June bugs on your property. Ultimately, however, action may not be required.
“In natural landscapes, grubs are a common component of the soil fauna across the country. Their damage is rarely, if ever, noticed,” advises Coyle, who adds that fungi and other causes could be the root cause of impacted greenery. “Just because you see patches of lawn dying doesn’t necessarily mean you have a June bug problem… The first step is figuring out exactly what is causing the damage you see.”
If you’re concerned about holes and irregularities appearing on flowering plants in your garden due to June bugs, though, targeted removal is often your best bet for dealing with them in the long run. You’ll need to start by contacting a local Extension office in your area and speaking with a representative. “They’ll provide you unbiased information and advice,” Coyle stresses.
How to get rid of June bugs
Once you’ve confirmed your garden woes are indeed caused by adult June bugs or their larvae, you’ll need to pursue a few different strategies to prevent regular damage every season. Many pest control providers will recommend what’s known as grub control, meaning they’ll treat lawns and garden beds with chemical treatment — but these treatments should be a resort only if a licensed provider has confirmed larvae are present, as they can be more destructive than you’d think.
“Keep in mind these will not only kill the June bug grub, but will also kill many other types of soil fauna, some of which are beneficial,” Coyle explains. “There are also beneficial nematodes that can be applied in targeted areas. These microscopic predatory worms seek out and feed on June bug grubs.”
Otherwise, adult June bugs may be targeted with gardening tools that keep them away from the plants they have been munching on, so to speak. Coyle says deterrent sprays — like neem oil — can be applied to leaves and other problem areas as needed. If you only notice a swarm in one area, adult June bugs can be picked off one by one and dropped into a container of soapy water, which kills the insects.
The season for June bugs is short, and they die off fairly quickly, Wede says. You may find success by turning to an electric light that targets other flying insects for mitigation, or even commercial beetle traps that can keep June bugs from flying around. “You can put these out on the patio or deck so you can enjoy the outdoors,” she adds.
The bottom line: “One of the best things you can do is promote a diverse ecosystem on your property. Many types of birds — like crows, robins, and blue jays — feed on grubs in the soil,” Coyle says. “Since birds are natural predators of grubs, doing things that promote a healthy bird population will help keep grub numbers under control.”
Zee Krstic is a health editor for Good Housekeeping, where he covers health and nutrition news, decodes diet and fitness trends and reviews the best products in the wellness aisle. Prior to joining GH in 2019, Zee fostered a nutrition background as an editor at Cooking Light and is continually developing his grasp of holistic health through collaboration with leading academic experts and clinical care providers. He has written about food and dining for Time, among other publications.
Dr. Coyle, assistant professor
of Forest Health and Invasive Species, joined Clemson University in 2018 with a focus on the forest health and invasive species Extension. Prior to Clemson, he created and directed the Southern Forest Health and Invasive Species program, which provided education and training to forestry professionals across the southeastern U.S. Dr. Coyle uses various forms of communication – including social media, traditional writing, and in-person visits – to help educate people about forest health, invasive species, and forest management. He is a member of the Society of American Foresters and the Entomological Society of America, serves on the Board of Directors for the North American Invasive Species Management Association, and is Co-Director of ProForest (an organization working to promote proactive forest pest management).