Gardener’s Guide To Lawn Insect Identification

Gardener’s Guide To Lawn Insect Identification

Gardeners deal with their fair share of problems on a daily basis, from weeds to problematic weather conditions. However, every gardener’s worst nightmare is an insect infestation.

While not all insects you’ll find on your lawn are actually harmful, some can cause serious problems for your lawn and garden. That’s why it’s important to be able to identify the insects you find on your lawn.

This is your complete guide to lawn insect identification. We’re going to be helping you to differentiate between bugs that are harmless or even beneficial for your lawn, and insects that need to be controlled to prevent lawn damage.

We’ll also be explaining how you can control harmful insect populations, and the best way to find out for sure whether you have an infestation. With our help, you should be able to keep your lawn pest-free and healthy in the future.

How To Check Your Lawn For Insects?

Knowing the different kinds of insects (both harmful and beneficial) that you might find on your lawn is one thing, but how do you know if you have an infestation on your hands?

There’s a simple test you can do to find out if you have large populations of insects hidden in your lawn, and it’s known as ‘the soap flush’. A soap flush requires you to mix dish soap (roughly five tablespoons) into a couple of gallons of water.

Then, all you need to do is pour the liquid onto your lawn. You don’t have to cover the whole area – as long as you get the soapy water on roughly five square feet of grass, the test should be effective.

Wait for about five minutes and watch carefully. If there are a lot of insects inhabiting your lawn, they should emerge during this time. If you only see a few insects, you don’t need to be worried.

There will always be some insects on your lawn, and a few here and there should not cause problems. However, if a swarm of insects comes running out from between the grass, you can be fairly certain you have an insect problem.

The next step is to use the identification guide below to determine what insects you have. Don’t forget to rinse away the dish soap with a garden hose after you’ve identified your insects because if you let it sit on your grass, it could get damaged or even die.

Most Common Lawn Insects You Should Know About

Insect Populations To Control

Although insects that will damage your lawn are actually in the minority (only about 1% of insects will cause serious problems for gardeners), it’s still worth knowing which ones are likely to do damage. This way, when you spot them, you’ll be able to stop the problem in its tracks.


Ants are very small insects, so they can often be difficult to spot. To an extent, it’s not unusual to have ants living in your lawn. They can actually be helpful in some areas, such as naturally aerating the soil.

However, ants can become a real problem when they live in your lawn in large colonies. Not only can they bite, but they can even get into your home and cause an ant infestation indoors.

You can purchase ant killers designed specifically for lawn use. These products will effectively kill the ants without damaging your grass and other plants.

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There are also a few ways you can reduce ant populations naturally, including soapy water, salt, diatomaceous earth, white vinegar, baby powder, cayenne pepper, and more.

White Grubs

If you’ve never heard of white grubs, that’s because they’re the larval form of a different insect: the scarab beetle. Scarab beetles in their adult form are not a big problem for gardeners, but white grubs live underground, and one of their main food sources is grass roots.

White grubs tend to cause the most issues in the late summer months and the beginning of fall. Because they live beneath the earth, they can be difficult to eradicate, but you can use nematodes or milky spores to treat the infestation if needed.

Mole Crickets

You probably won’t encounter many mole crickets if you live in the northern United States, but they are quite common further south. It’s not difficult to spot these insects because they are very large (for insects, anyway).

Their bodies are over an inch long, and they typically live underground. Even though mole crickets spend most of their lives hidden from sight, they can still do significant damage to your lawn because as they burrow under the earth, they break the roots of your grass.

Hunting Billbugs

Hunting billbugs are part of the weevil family. When you look at them up close, you’ll notice that they have long snouts, which tend to be crooked rather than straight.

These insects will usually be found hiding between blades of grass, and they especially like slow spreading grass species and Bermuda grass. Unfortunately, these insects are known for feeding on grass and damaging lawns in the process, leaving dead grass behind.

Chinch Bugs

You are most likely to find chinch bugs on your lawn if you live in a southern area of the United States, partly because these insects prefer to feed on Sat. Augustine’s grass, which thrives in the south – especially in Florida and Texas.

These bugs are very hard to spot because of how small they are, hence why infestations can get out of hand so quickly. You also have to look in the thatch of your grass to see them properly.

Sod Webworms

Sod webworms are caterpillars that tend to be most active in the summer months as well as in the fall. They measure between ½ and ¾ of an inch, and they’re a tan brown color, so they can sometimes be difficult to see.

These insects lay their eggs between blades of turfgrass, and since these eggs hatch in the space of a week, the population can multiply quickly. Unfortunately, sod webworms don’t just lay their eggs in the grass – they also feed on it.


If you have centipede grass on your lawn, you’ll want to keep an eye out for small, winged bugs called spittlebugs. They are identifiable because of their brightly-colored wing stripes.

You might notice the aftermath of a spittlebug infestation before you notice the bugs themselves. They usually leave a foamy substance on grass, and they prefer to live at thatch level, hence why centipede grass is this insect’s preferred grass species.

However, you might also notice spittlebugs as you walk across your lawn because they might fly out when disturbed.

Fall Armyworms

Gardener’s Guide To Lawn Insect Identification

Fall armyworms look like caterpillars, and in a way, they are – but technically, they are larvae that will eventually turn into armyworm moths. These caterpillars will appear around the end of summer or the beginning of fall.

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You can differentiate them from other similar-looking insects by looking at the shape of the head, which will look similar to an upside-down Y. These insects are a big problem for gardeners because one of their primary food sources are blades of grass.

Insects That Benefit Your Garden

Now that we’ve covered the insects that are most likely to damage your lawn, we want to make sure you know which insects are not only harmless, but actually beneficial.

Interestingly, the insects that are least harmful to your lawn are typically the biggest danger to other insects. Predatory insects will eat some of the other insects that might damage your lawn, helping to keep problematic insect populations low.

If you see any of the following insects in your garden or on your lawn, don’t get rid of them – they are your allies!


Ladybugs are usually fairly easy to spot in your lawn because of their brightly-colored, spotted wings. You might also know these insects are ladybirds, or ladybird beetles.

Ladybirds can help you to keep harmful insect populations at bay because they feed on other insects, even in larval form. These little bugs are always hungry, so you should try to keep them around.

While adult ladybugs usually have bright wings with dark spots, the larvae are dark with light spots. This can look very strange if you’re not familiar with ladybug larvae, but don’t be alarmed – they won’t hurt you or your lawn.

Ground Beetles

Ground beetles are fairly small compared to some other beetle species. They’re usually shiny-looking and can be tan, green, or bronze.

As adults, and even as larvae, these beetles feed on soft-bodied bugs, including caterpillars, so they help to get rid of some of the unwanted pests you might find on your lawn.

Rove Beetles

Rove beetles can be differentiated from other beetle species because their bodies are longer and thinner.

These bugs mostly feed on soft-bodied insects, and since a few of these soft-bodied bugs are listed in our harmful lawn insects category, you can rely on ground beetles to help manage other populations.

Controlling Insect Populations: Top Tips

Prioritize Non-Toxic Control Methods

In our opinion, it’s always best to use the least-toxic methods of controlling harmful insect populations when trying to protect your lawn.

We understand that discovering an insect infestation in your lawn can be very alarming, and you might instinctively feel like tackling the problem with the harshest chemical methods available, but this is usually not the best course of action.

There are biological pesticides, soaps, non-toxic bug repellents, and even other insects (the beneficial ones listed above) that can help you manage unwanted insect populations without damaging your lawn and its ecosystem in the process.

Sometimes, when all else fails, it might be necessary to resort to toxic chemical pesticides to get rid of a bug infestation, but these situations are actually quite rare.

Therefore, we strongly encourage you to exhaust all possible non-toxic options before getting out the stronger products.

Look Into Insect Life Cycles

Before implementing any kind of control measures to get rid of unwanted insects in your lawn, you should do your research into the offending insect’s life cycle. This will help you to use pest control methods effectively.

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Once you’ve identified your insect, you can research its life cycle online. This will tell you which months of the year the insect is most active during, and when it transitions from its larval phase to adulthood.

For example, if you research ‘fall armyworms life cycle’, you will find that in the United States, these bugs are most active during the summer and fall.

This information will help you to decide whether it’s worth tackling the problem with pesticides, or waiting for the insect’s active season to end while implementing preventative measures for the following year.

In general, doing more research into the insects on your lawn is helpful because you’ll know where they spend most of their time and what they feed on, which will guide you in directing your pest control methods effectively.

Consider Beneficial Insects

Remember, when you apply any products to your lawn to deal with unwanted insects, there’s a chance you could also impact beneficial insect populations.

This is part of the reason why we always recommend being conservative with your pest control at the start, and trying to use non-toxic methods if possible.

Before using any kind of product to get rid of insects, research the ingredients and which insects they can be harmful to. For instance, you don’t want to accidentally kill all the ladybugs on your lawn in the process of getting rid of other insects.

This would be counterproductive because ladybugs can actually help you to control pest populations.

Final Thoughts

Insects can be a real problem for gardeners all over the United States, but it’s important to remember that not all bugs are detrimental to your lawn, and it’s not always best to use the strongest pest control methods as a first resort.

Before deciding what to do about the insects in your lawn, do the soap test to bring them into the open and identify what you’re dealing with. Then, research the insect’s life cycle and make your decision from there.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Can I Spot Insect Damage On My Lawn?

Insect damage to your lawn will look like a lot of other lawn issues caused by diseases and suboptimal weather conditions.

You might notice that your grass isn’t growing as fast, or is yellowing and browning. In order to confirm that the damage is caused by insects, you will need to do the soap test described in this guide.

What Can I Spray To Keep Bugs Off My Lawn? 

If you want to keep harmful insects away from your lawn, but don’t want to spray harsh chemicals all over the area, we recommend a mixture of either water and eucalyptus or water and lavender. These mixtures work as natural pest barriers.

Does Vinegar Keep Bugs Away Outside?

Yes, vinegar can help to keep bugs off your lawn. This includes white vinegar and apple cider vinegar.

However, a water and vinegar solution is even more effective when you mix in some essential oils such as eucalyptus or lavender. Vinegar may also help to keep other animals like raccoons, foxes, and rabbits away.