Insects and Your Lawn Go Hand-in-hand

Insects have gotten a bad rap over the years and it seems like whenever we see one of the little crawly things we run for a can of bug spray and kill everything that moves in the lawn. True, some insects can do some substantial damage to the lawn, but unless you see that type of problem, it is better to let Mother Nature run the show. Often, in our attempt to eradicate the little critters we also remove all the beneficial insects that do more good than the insects we're trying to remove.

Of course, if you really have a bad infestation of say fleas and ticks, or perhaps grubs are turning your lawn into Swiss cheese, go ahead and treat. But don't just treat a lawn with insecticides just to be on the safe side. When problems occur, take care of them then.

If you apply treatments yourself, be sure to read and UNDERSTAND directions packaged with the product. Many insecticides can be harmful to humans, deadly to pets and wildlife. So please, read the directions carefully BEFORE applying any chemical to your lawn or landscape.

A professional lawn care provider should be able to treat your lawn for most common lawn pests, safe and effectively. Ask them about their pest control applications. Using a pro for this makes a lot of sense. You don't have to buy or store those nasty chemicals, but you don't even have to try and read all those label warnings and cautions in printing so small that you need a magnifying glass to read. Not only do the professionals know which chemicals take care of which bugs, but they also know what those labels are saying.

Insects in/on/under your lawn

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Fire Ants

Ants occasionally appear in large enough numbers in the lawn that control is needed. The ants may not be actually damaging the grass itself, but the tunneling into the soil may be creating problems.

In recent years, Fire Ants have become a more serious problem and immediate control is usually required. (see below)


There are many species of aphids, and they feed on all types of vegetation. The white pine aphid feeds on the bark of twigs and branches of Eastern white pine. Heavy aphid infestations can seriously weaken small trees and ornamentals.


The larval form of moths—these insects feed on turf grasses, chewing them down to the ground. Fall armyworms are a major pest to southern lawns.


Adult billbugs are about 1/5" - 3/4" long. They are beetles with long snouts, or bills, that carry to the tip a pair of strong jaws or mandibles with which the beetles chew their food. Clay yellow to reddish brown to jet black in color. The beetles burrow in the grass stems near the surface of the soil and also feed on the leaves. Several species of billbugs damage lawns. The bluegrass billbug is a bluegrass pest. The hunting billbug causes damage to Zoysia grass.


Chiggers (red bugs) invade lawns from surrounding grassy or woody areas. These mites are annoying to people. They attach themselves temporarily to the skin and release a point that causes severe irritation and intense itching. They are very tiny and are seldom seen. Chigger


Chinchbugs are surface-feeding insects and most damaging to St. Augustine grass. You may see them on grasses such as Zoysia, Bermuda, and Centipede, but infestations usually occur where high populations have built up on St. Augustine grass.

Adult chinch bugs are about 1/4" long and black with white wings folded over their backs. The insect mates early in the season when the temperature reaches 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The female lays eggs on roots, stems, leaves, leaf sheaths or crevices in nodes and other protected places. Eggs are laid over a 2 - 3 week period, with one female laying as many as 500 eggs.

Damage is most severe in drought years, and can be prevented by planting perennial ryegrass, fine leaf and tall Fescues. Regular moisture increases levels of naturally occurring fungi that help keep chinch bugs in check.


Dull-brown, gray or nearly black caterpillars that are 1" - 2" long. Some cutworms are spotted, others are striped. Usually they hide in the soil during the day and feed at night. They are the larvae of night-flying brown or grayish moths. Cutworms occasionally infest lawns. They feed on the leaves or cut off the grass near the soil and may do severe damage to seedlings of bermudagrass, Bentgrass and ryegrass.



Normally, earthworms are beneficial to lawns and soils in general. When they become too numerous, they sometimes become pests because of the small mounds of castings that look unsightly in short grass types. An imported species, the oriental earthworm, is found in some eastern states. It is 6" - 8" long and about 1/5" in diameter. It is light green on the upper surface with a purplish-green line down the center of its back. It throws up abundant castings.


Earwigs are beetle-like insects about 3/4" long and reddish-brown. The insect has a prominent pair of forcept-like cerci at the rear of the body. The cerci of the male are curved. Earwigs hide during the day and forage at night. These insects are occasionally found in lawns and sometimes they breed in enormous numbers in piles of lawn clippings. The feed on all kinds of food, but do not normally damage lawns.

Fire Ants

Fire Ant

Fire ant mounds can be enormous. It used to be that each nest had but one queen, buried up to 25' underground and supported by a complex network of other ants performing an amazing array of tasks. Now mounds are often found with multiple queens, presumably as a reaction to chemical pesticides. Those queens willing to share, have more successful colonies since it is harder to kill multiple queens than just one, and therefore their genes are passed along to their offspring. Worker ants live only a few months, but the queens live two years, producing about a thousand eggs a day.


Fleas occasionally spread to lawns from infested dogs, cats, or other nearby animals. They may attack people or pets. The female flea lays eggs on the skin of its host animal and as the animal walks the eggs fall off, which, could be in your lawn, carpet or your furniture. When the eggs hatch, they seek out a new host to provide a fresh meal. Some flea eggs can lay dormant for months or even years until they are activated by the vibration of a passing host.

Adult Flea Adult Flea

Flea Eggs Flea Eggs / Feces

Flea Larvae Flea Larvae


Do not feed on the grasses of a well-kept lawn except when they are so numerous that forage is scarce. They usually migrate to lawns from croplands or wastelands. Control measures in lawns are seldom necessary.



Grubs in the lawnThe larval stage of many different beetles, including the Japanese beetle. The grub lives below ground and feeds on the roots of tender grass plants that soon kills the plant. They are most destructive mid-late summer, but the damage they cause may not show up until early fall and by then, it's too late. The best time to control grubs is in early summer, just after they hatch. At this time they are very susceptible to treatment and just before they start causing extensive damage to your lawn.

Japanese Beetles

Japanese beetle
The Japanese beetle spends about 10 months of the year in the soil as a white grub. The grubs grow quickly and by late August are almost full-sized (about 1" long). Grubs feed on the grass roots, doing best in warm, slightly moist soil that has plenty of organic matter and tender grasses. However, they can survive in almost any soil in which plants can live. Adult beetles feed voraciously on ornamental plant leaves.

Japanese beetle traps are not suggested as they only attract more beetles to your yard where they leg more eggs. Perhaps you might suggest your neighbor put up a trap or two so they all go over to his yard.


Tiny triangular or wedge-shaped insects that fly or hop short distances. They are less than 1/5" long, are green, yellow or brownish gray. Many species of leafhoppers infest lawns. They suck the sap from the leaves and stems of the grass. New lawns may be damaged so extensively that reseeding is necessary. Damage to established lawns is evident in whitened patches. It is often mistaken for damage due to dry weather or disease.


Millipedes and Centipedes

Millipedes (thousand-legged worms) and centipedes (hundred-legged worms) are dark brown and have many segments. Most of them coil up when disturbed. Millipedes and centipedes do not usually damage lawns. Occasionally, millipedes congregate in yards after heavy rains. Their food is chiefly decaying vegetable matter. Some of the larger centipedes may bite people. Most species are not dangerous. Control of centipedes in lawns is seldom necessary.



Several species of mites attack grasses. They suck the sap and cause the leaves to be blotched and stippled. Severe infestations can kill the plants. The Banks grass mite occurs throughout most of the US and occasionally attacks lawns. It is not ordinarily a pest in well-managed lawns. Clover mites feed on clover and other lawn plants. They are very tiny and brown. Although they feed only on plants, they are a nuisance when they enter homes. This usually occurs in spring and fall.

Mole Crickets

Mole crickets feed at night during warm weather and after rain showers or irrigation. They come to the surface and feed on organic material, including grass, and other small organisms, including insects. During the day, and during periods of drought, they remain in their burrows, often for long periods of time.

Like fire ants, we can not eradicate mole crickets. They are with us to stay. And like all other insects, we really cannot control them, we can only manage them so that they stay within tolerable population levels.


Slugs and Snails

Slugs and snails may often move about on the lawn and may injure adjacent plants. They are night feeders and leave mucous trails on plants and sidewalks.



Spiders are found about the lawn, on flowers, plants and shrubbery. Most spiders are harmless to people and even beneficial because they capture and devour large numbers of harmful insects. They do not damage the grass or other vegetation. There are a couple of exceptions: black widow and brown recluse spiders. Consult a physician at once if bitten by either of these.


SpittlebugThey seldom damage well-managed lawns. The nymphs live inside masses of spittle and suck the juices from the plants. The adults resemble leafhoppers in appearance and habits, but they are more robust. Two species are sometimes found in lawns. The meadow spittlebug nymphs are yellowish green. The adults are about 1/4" long, are gray or brown and have dark-brown markings. They usually feed on clover or weeds. The two-lined spittlebug occasionally infests lawns. The nymph is ivory and its head and thorax are brownish. The adult is about 3/8" long, dark brown or black and has two orange stripes on its wings. These insects feed on bermudagrass, St. Augustinegrass, Centipedegrass and several other plants. Thatch control is important in preventing and controlling spittle bugs in lawns. Proper dethatching and fertilization practices can disrupt the humid conditions essential for spittlebug development. Chemical controls in lawns are seldom necessary.

Sod Webworm / Moth

Sod Webworm
Webworm moth

If lots of sod webworm moths are observed in the evening, watch for damage in about 10 - 14 days. This is when their eggs begin to hatch into caterpillars. These caterpillars chew off the grass blades close to the soil surface leaving brown stubble as damage. Early August is typically when we see the heaviest damage, although sometimes damage is also heavy in June. Insecticides should be applied to the surface of damaged areas.


Thrips are found in lawns and sometimes in homes. They come from nearby grass or flowers. These tiny black or brown insects may inflict painful bites on people working about the lawn. Control measures in lawns are seldom practical.



Several kinds of ticks infest lawns. They drop on the grass from dogs and rodents. Most of them will attach themselves to people if given the opportunity. Pain main result from their bites. Some ticks transmit diseases, including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Human Monocytic Ehrlichiosis, Lyme Disease and tularemia. They usually aren't harmful to lawns however.

Shown: Deer Tick

Deer Ticks