Pest Identification Guide | Want To Do Your Own Lawn Pest Control?


Mar 27, 2020

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You’ve suddenly noticed browning and bare spots in your yard, but your soil tests are coming up perfect.

You may very well have an infestation of grass-eating pests that wreak havoc on your beautiful turf.

Some pests, however, may not necessarily damage your lawn but pack a dangerous bite or sting, or they create ankle-twisting divots in your yard.

No matter what lawn intruders you’re dealing with, the first step in getting rid of them is identifying what pests you’re dealing with. Our pest identification guide below will help you in your quest to determine what you’re dealing with and how to evict them from your land.

Chinch Bugs

If you live in the southern or western U.S., you’ve likely heard about chinch bugs a thousand times but never actually saw one. Chance are, you’ve probably seen the path of destruction they leave behind, though. They suck the moisture from your grass and leave behind a poison that slowly turns your grass yellow or brown before finally killing it.

Identifying Chinch Bugs

Chinch bugs are relatively easy to identify, but they can be tough to spot, as adults are only about one-fifth of an inch long. They have oval-shaped, black bodies and white overlapping wings. The wings are a dead giveaway, as they have a black triangle near the head.

Controlling Chinch Bugs

If you discover chinch bugs are sucking the life from your turf, they are relatively simple to get rid of. Start by raking out any thatch that’s build up on your lawn – this ensures the chemicals you use will reach the pests. With the thatch cleared, douse your lawn with an insecticide labeled for cinch bugs, and you’re good to go.

Make sure to treat the entire lawn and not just the spots where there is chinch bug damage.

Sod Webworms

When sod webworms grow into snout moths, they are relatively harmless to your lawn, but these caterpillars chomp your grass and leave bare spots in their wake. Slowly, the bare spots result in the surrounding grass dying, starting a chain reaction you’d rather not be a part of.

Identifying Sod Webworms

Sod webworms are fleshy-bodied caterpillars that are three-quarters of an inch to 1-inch long. Their bodies vary in color by species, but their dark heads and small spots on their bodies are dead giveaways. These spots can be a range of colors but generally range from gray to pink.

Controlling Sod Webworms

There are plenty of insecticides on the market that treat for sod webworms, so picking up one of these is your best bet. Make sure to apply the treatment in the late afternoon or early evening, as sod webworms enjoy an early-evening breakfast. This late application ensures there is a little added spice to their meal.

Generally, sod webworm products are good for up to three months of protection, but you’ll want to check for new caterpillars periodically.


Cutworms are destructive caterpillars that don’t discriminate. They will munch on nearly anything green, including garden veggies or your precious lawn. Cutworms damage the stems of most plants, so you will notice your turf wilting under the sun. You may also see bare patches, as cutworms prefer takeout, so they cut the grass at its base and drag it to their burrows to eat later.

Identifying Cutworms

Cutworms are fleshy caterpillars and come in a variety of colors – pink, green, brown or black – with stripes running the length of their bodies. When you disturb a cutworm, their first reaction is to curl up into a “C” shape.

Controlling Cutworms

There are various insecticides on the market that kill cutworms and continue to prevent them for up to three months. These will do the trick, but keep in mind that cutworms prefer to do their dining at nighttime or on cloudy days, so plan on applying your insecticide around these times to ensure maximum effectiveness.

Generally, sod webworm products are good for up to three months of protection, but you’ll want to check for new caterpillars periodically.


Billbugs are destructive to grass during all phases of life. As adults, they chew holes in your grass and lay eggs inside. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae eat the grass from root to tip. Next thing you know, you’ve got a patch of brown grass.

It’s easy to mistake billbug damage for disease or drought, but there are a few telltale sign billbugs are to blame. First, when you pull the grass, it breaks off at the soil line. Second, they leave behind sawdustlike excrement.

Identifying Billbugs

Billbugs are a type of weevil that grows up to a half-inch long. You can easily identify one by its brown to black body and long bill-like snout that curves downward. Billbug larvae have white bodies, reddish-brown heads and no legs.

Controlling Billbugs

Various insecticide options target billbugs, but it’s your approach that’ll make the difference in success and failure. To succeed in eliminating billbugs, you must first spray your yard for them in the early spring to prevent adults from laying eggs. Then reapply in the fall or winter to kill any larvae.

White Grubs

Grubs are great fishing bait but terrible lawn companions, as they feed on your lawn’s roots just under the soil and cause yellow or brown turf. What’s worse, is they are hard to spot because they live under the surface until they become Japanese beetles in their adult phase.

Identifying White Grubs

White grubs are fleshy caterpillarlike insects with gray-white bodies, brown heads and six legs. When you disturb a white grub, it quickly rolls up into a “C” shape.

Controlling White Grubs

There is a wide range of insecticides to treat grub infestations, and any variety will work. The key is to strike when the grubs are most vulnerable, which is either in the fall when the new hatchlings are near the surface or in the spring when they return to feed on the roots.

If you prefer the non-chemical route, there are a few options. Parasitic nematodes are a great way to keep grubs at bay. You can also douse your lawn in a mixture of 2 tablespoons of liquid dishwashing soap and 1 gallon of water per 1,000 square feet. This will force the grubs to the surface, creating a bird buffet.

Fire Ants

There are many fire ant species, but the most common ones are the red imported fire ant that have invaded the southern and western U.S. These ants may not cause much damage to your lawn, but they carry a painful bite and sting if you accidentally disturb the mound while doing lawn work.

Identifying Fire Ants

Identifying the red imported fire ant is relatively simple, as the queen and worker ants have a reddish-brown head and thorax and a black backside. The only variation in color are the all-black male swarmers. These ants range from a sixteenth- to a quarter-inch in length and have two bumps just between the thorax and abdomen.

If you have sandy mounds strewn throughout your yard or around the cracks in the sidewalk or driveway, you’ve likely got fire ants.

Controlling Fire Ants

Fire ants can be tough to control, as they tend to migrate from yard to yard. So, while you may control the mounds in your yard, your neighbor’s uncontrolled fire ant minefield can make its way to your space.

Successful control requires two steps. First, apply a fire ant killer directly to the mound. This product tricks the workers into thinking it’s food, and they deliver the poison to the entire mound. To prevent that neighboring minefield’s spread to your now ant-free yard, pick up a broadcast fire ant control and spread it across your entire yard.


Moles may look cute, but their burrows can cause ankle-breaking divots in your yard and kill your grass’ roots. So, despite their cuteness, they are pests, and you must treat them as such.

If you notice volcanolike piles of dirt with small openings at the top throughout your yard, you may have a mole infestation.

Identifying Moles

Moles are generally about 7 inches long and weigh just 4 ounces. They stand out due to their pointed muzzles, tiny eyes, lack of external ears, broad front feet, webbed toes and potato-shaped bodies. When they walk, they look more like they are almost swimming in the grass due to their flipperlike feet.

If you have sandy mounds strewn throughout your yard or around the cracks in the sidewalk or driveway, you’ve likely got fire ants.

Controlling Moles

There are many ways to control moles humanely. First, you can use the trapping method and release the mole in a rural area at least 5 miles from your home. Second, you can use ultrasonic sound producers in your yard that deter them. You can even dip ears of corn in roofing tar and block each of the mole’s exit holes in your yard with the corn – moles hate the smell of tar and cannot exit the burrow because you blocked it, enticing them to burrow out of your yard.


Armyworms love just about any vegetation, but they crave turf grasses, making them a destructive force in your lawn. If you’ve got a bad case of armyworms, your yard can go from lush the baren in a matter of days, so quick action is critical.

They tend to leave ragged edges on your grass or chew through only the green part of the grass, leaving a windowpane-like hole. Small brown patches of grass are early signs of a potential armyworm infestation.

Identifying Armyworms

Armyworms are fleshy caterpillars about 1.5-2 inches long. The head can be a range of colors, but it will always have a distinct “Y” marking on it. The body will have a series of stripes running its length that are green, yellow, red, or brown. They are also easy to identify by the way they travel in side-by-side packs, much like a marching army.

Controlling Armyworms

Armyworms feed throughout the day, but they are most active during the early morning and late evening, making these the best times to apply a pesticide designed to kill them. Many store-bought pesticides are effective against armyworms.

Fiery Skippers

Whether in their moth form or larval state, fiery skippers can do severe damage to your lawn. They feed on your grass, leaving large dead spots that eventually turn into dead patches. Getting rid of larval fiery skippers is the only way to ensure your lawn is safe.

Identifying Fiery Skippers

In their larval state, fiery skippers are up to 1-inch long caterpillarlike pests with pinkish-green-colored fleshy bodies. They have what looks like an oversized black head with reddish markings on the front.

In their adult moth form, a fiery skipper almost resembles a butterfly. It has about a 1-inch-long body with a hooked knob at the end. Male skippers have orange-yellow wings, while females have dark-brown wings with yellow or orange spots.

Controlling Fiery Skippers

Rake up any thatch from your yard to ensure you uncover all the larvae, then apply parasitic nematodes and Bacillus thuringiensis to combat fiery skipper larvae.


Fleas may not damage your yard, but if you have dogs or cats that like roaming your yard, they can become a nuisance. They get on your pets and feed on their blood. In some cases, they get on your furniture and can bite humans too.

Identifying them in the yard and destroying them at the source is a great way to prevent them from ever getting on your pets.

Identifying Fleas

Fleas are tiny parasites that measure just 3 mm long. They are wingless and have flat bodies that are brown or reddish-brown. You can generally find fleas in the shadiest parts of your lawn, but you’ll have to get close to the ground to see them.

Controlling Fleas

Any pet owner knows there’s a wide range of flea-control chemicals for pets in stores, but you can also control them at the source using nematodes, which are pest-controlling worms. They feed on smaller pests like fleas and ticks.

Green June Beetle Grubs

While green June beetle grubs aren’t big on destroying turf by eating it – they prefer thatch – their burrows can cause severe turf disfiguration over time. Get enough grubs in your lawn, and you can start seeing a significant difference.

Identifying Green June Beetle Grubs

Green June beetle grubs are generally three-eighths to 1.5 inches long with a stubby, fleshy, white body and short legs. On the top of their bodies, these grubs have ridges with short, stiff hairs.

Controlling Green June Beetle Grubs

If you prefer the chemical-free route, you can install insect-parasitic nematodes, which are known to feed on and kill green June beetle grubs.

If chemicals are your preferred route, there are plenty of insecticides on the market designed to tackle these burrowing grubs. Keep in mind that dying green June beetle grubs will burrow up to the surface, leaving them to rot in your yard and potentially create quite an odor.

Yellow Jackets

Bees are great. They pollinate flowers and are a key part of our ecosystem. Yellow jackets aren’t bees – they are jerks. They generally build their nests in the ground, will sting with no provocation, and tend to attack in packs while you’re innocently cutting the grass. Making matters worse, they rarely visit flowers, so they offer little help in the pollination department.

Protecting you, your family, and your pets from these temperamental wasps starts with identifying and controlling them.

Identifying Yellow Jackets

Yellow jackets are a wasp, not a bee, so they lack the somewhat fuzzy appearance bees have. They are generally a half- to three-quarters of an inch long, have a narrow waist and long legs, and an abdomen with alternating black and yellow stripes.

Controlling Yellow Jackets

There are many ways to control yellow jackets, but your approach will vary based on the size and location of the colony. If you find a small hive hanging around the house, an aerosol foaming spray is your best weapon – and it’s quite satisfying. Spraying in the morning or early evening is best, as the whole colony is likely in the hive and at rest.

If you spot a larger colony, a spray will kill some but make the rest of the hive very angry. At this point, a yellow jacket trap or electric zapper in the area of the hive is best.

Pro Tip: Always wear long a long-sleeve shirt, long pants, gloves and face protection when approaching a hive.

Japanese Beetles

Japanese beetles are indiscriminate plant-eaters that can do serious damage to your lawn and ornamental plants. They chomp away at the leaves and blades, leaving large holes that can eventually kill off the plant. Their grubs are just as bad.

Identifying Japanese Beetles

Japanese beetles are about a half-inch long and have metallic green- and bronze-colored wing covers. They also have six tufts of white hair on each side of their abdomens.

Controlling Japanese Beetles

The most effective treatment is to pick them off your plants by hand and dispose of them. You can also pick up insecticides designed to kill them or buy Japanese beetle traps and set them up around your yard.


Leafhoppers cause plant and grass damage by piercing the shoots and sucking out the insides. While the damage you see will vary by species, the plant’s leaves will generally curl, dry or turn brown.

Identifying Leafhoppers

Adult leafhoppers are one-eighth to a one-quarter of an inch long with a slender body that’s in a wedge shape. Their colors vary by species, but they are generally a shade of green.

Controlling Leafhoppers

Leafhoppers are relatively easy to control with store-bought insecticides designed to target them. To increase effectiveness, start your treatments in the early spring to kill off the immature nymphs.


You’ve seen them flying around your house and given them many names – mosquitoes, mosquito hawks, horse mosquitoes, etc. In fact, aren’t mosquitoes at all. They are crane flies. They feed on nectar and are harmless. The problem is their larvae, known as leatherjackets, destroy lawns.

Leatherjackets feed on every part of your grass, leaving dead and bare patches in their wake. If you separate the soil near one of these patches, you will find them underground munching away on your turf.

Identifying Leatherjackets

Leatherjackets are fleshy caterpillarlike pests that are up to 1.5 inches long. They are olive-brown colored, have no legs and no clear head.

Controlling Leatherjackets

You can control leatherjackets with an insecticide designed to target them in the early spring. In the late summer, you’ll want to apply another insecticide that targets crane flies to kill the emerging adults before they mature and create more leatherjackets.

Mole Crickets

Mole crickets are destructive pests that spend much of their time under the soil. They emerge around mating time and to lay eggs. They do their damage almost unnoticed until you suddenly spot dead and dying grass in the late summer, which is why it’s critical to identify and control mole crickets early..

Identifying Mole Crickets

Mole crickets get their name because of their molelike front claws. They are dark or golden brown, 1 to 1.25 inches long and have a lobsterlike head. They are very hard to mistake for any other pest. Young mole crickets look the same but are smaller.

Controlling Mole Crickets

There are many insecticides on the market that treat and prevent mole crickets. The key is to monitor your lawn for these unmistakable pests and apply an insecticide the moment you see them. If you don’t monitor your yard, the damage can sneak up on you.


Mosquitoes are infamous pests because they leave itchy welts and have been known to pass deadly diseases. Also, they can overrun your yard, especially if you have drainage issues, making it virtually impossible to host outdoor events.

Identifying Mosquitoes

Mosquitoes vary significantly in size, but they all share similar physical traits. They are related to flies, so they have a pair of wings. You will also notice they have slender bodies with hair-like scales and a long probe coming from their snout.

Controlling Mosquitoes

Mosquitoes are interesting, as there is no real way to control them other than a bug spray, an electric zapper or the tried-and-true rolled-up magazine. You can, however, prevent them by fixing any drainage issues that cause standing water in your yard. And if you have a birdbath or other standing-water fixture, change the water regularly.


Ticks may not affect our turf, but they are lawn pests nonetheless. Not only do they dig under human and pet skin and feed on our blood, but they can also carry dangerous diseases like Lyme Disease. This is why identifying and eliminating them is a critical part of maintaining your lawn.

Identifying Ticks

There are countless species of ticks, and they all have small variations in size and coloring. They do, however, share some physical traits, including brown or reddish-brown flat bodies (when they aren’t full of blood) and eight legs. They also have narrow snouts they use to dig under our skin.

Controlling Ticks

Keeping your lawn mowed and raking up the clippings are key maintenance items that can prevent ticks. If you’ve already got a tick problem, you can use acaricides, which are tick insecticides, to kill off any currently roaming your yard. Before using acaricides, you’ll want to check local laws regarding its use.


Like many of the pests on our list, greenbugs feed on plants and turf, but their saliva also has enzymatic activity that breaks down the cell walls and chloroplasts in the plants. This activity results in yellowing of the plant, leaf and root death, and the eventual death of the plant itself.

Spotting and immediately treating for greenbugs is a key to keeping your lawn and ornamental plants looking fresh.

Identifying Greenbugs

Greenbugs are tiny at just 1.3-2.1 mm long and are oval-shaped. Their heads and the first part of the thorax are a straw color to a pale green, and their abdomen is a light to medium green. Another key identifier are the darker-green stripes running down the middle of their backs. Adult greenbugs have wings.

Controlling Greenbugs

Greenbugs have become tolerant to many insecticides over the years, but the best bet for handling an infestation is using organophosphorous pesticides. The problem is, these are generally highly toxic, so only specially trained professionals can apply them. Because of their growing tolerance, you may have to have several applications to rid yourself of all the greenbugs.

Black Grass Bugs

Black grass bugs love pastures and relatively undisturbed fields, but they also have no problem setting up shop in your front yard. They pierce your grass and ornamental plants and suck the nutrients from the inside, leaving behind yellow and white spots on your grass. In more severe cases, the grass looks almost like it’s frosted.

Identifying Black Grass Bugs

There are many types of black grass bugs, but the most common of them are the labops, which are a quarter-inch long and black. The wings have a buff color on the edges, and the head has whitish markings on it. Young black grass bugs look the same but lack wings.

Controlling Black Grass Bugs

Several available insecticides treat for black grass bugs. The key is to manage the infestation in the early spring to kill them before the damage begins. It may be beneficial to plan to apply more insecticide the following year to catch any hatchlings from eggs laid before your initial treatment, as the treatment has no impact on eggs.

No Better Time to Act Than Now

With a firm grasp of the pests that can invade your yard, the damage they can do and how to treat them, you’re now ready to go on defense against these lawn intruders. The key to preventing damage is early detection, so make sure you’re always on the lookout for signs of pest damage so you can eradicate them before the damage spreads.