Turf Insect Identification

Lawn Maintenance, Sod Solutions

Turf Insect Identification


“Bugs can be an unpleasant nuisance for homeowners inside the house. But with the exception of termites, it’s in the yard where they can do the most damage. Insects that feed on grass can turn a once beautiful lawn into a wasteland in no time at all. Proper identification is the key to stopping an infestation before its starts.

“Here are some common pests that can plaque homeowners to no end:

“The first we will look at are southern chinch bugs. They are the enemy of St. Augustine grass lawns….where they usually do most of their damage. They can be seen by the naked eye…but are extremely small. The youngest nymphs have a distinct red color with a white band in the middle. Moving up the growth cycle, the adults are only about the size of the tip of this pen…about 4 millimeters in length. All are black and some have fully developed wings. In this shot, there is an adult chinch bug on this blade of grass. You better look closely or you will miss it. They are extremely small. They most often infest in the summer months.

“As far as caterpillars go, there are a number of varieties. Two of the most damaging are the sod webworm and the fall armyworm. Sod webworms are about ¾ to an inch long. They have 4 parallel rows of dark spots along the length of their abdomen. Sod webworms are solitary, meaning that they will often move around individually, and usually live in individual burrows. They emerge from the burrow and feed at night.

“Fall Armyworms can grow up to 1 ½ inches in length and vary in color from light green to black with several stripes along the body. Their heads are marked with a light colored, inverted Y shape. You’ll know when you have an infestation because hundreds of them will be feeding in a group in broad daylight. You will notice a patch of grass that seems to have been stripped of all leaves and in slow progression, is getting larger. The damage often first appears near woods or building because adult moths usually lay eggs on erected structures in the lawn.

“Both the sod webworm and fall armyworm turn into moths in the adult stage. In the moth stage, they will no longer feed on the grass…but will lay eggs for the next generation. The sod webworm moth, sometimes call a ‘lawn moth,’ is usually beige in color with a wingspan of about an inch. The fall armyworm moth is ash-gray and has a wingspan of about an inch and a half.

“White grubs are c-shaped larvae of different kinds of scarab beetles found below the soil level. As adult beetles, they will eat your ornamental plants and shrubs. But at the white grub stage, they will feed on the roots and thatch of turf grass during the spring to fall months.

“White grubs are also the larvae stage for Hunting billbugs….an insect that eats a number of different kinds of grass…but particularly likes to feed on zoysia and bermudagrass varieties. Billbugs adults are dark colored and are larger and more easily spotted than chinch bugs…but are still small at 6 to 11 millimeters in length. Billbugs are weevils so you’ll be able to see the distinctive snout or bill at the front end of the head. They can be seen walking around on blades and down at the soil level.

“Mole Crickets are about the easiest insects to identify. They can be easy to spot on top of a lawn at about 1 to 2 inches in length. Problem is, they spend most of their time digging under the surface and eating the roots and shoots of your grass. You can often see the telltale signs of a tunnel by observing trails of dirt rising up in your lawn….or in this case, sand.

“Spittlebugs are really only a problem in centipede grass….where they do their most damage. Adults are dark brown to black in color, fashion a bright red abdomen (visible when wings are lifted) and have two distinct red lines across their backs. Damage done to centipede grass appears in the form of a purple and or white stripe along the grass blades.

“Ground pearl is the last insect we will look at. Theses are the smallest and hardest to get rid of. Again, while they may be found in a number of grasses, it is centipede that is damaged the most. Ground pearls are so tiny that many fit on the face of a penny. They are coated in a wax like substance and are mostly protected from controls like insecticides.

“They best way to help keep these insects away from your lawn is through proper maintenance of your lawn. Proper watering, proper fertilizing, and so on. Healthy grass can better stand up to the abuses by insects and diseases.

“But correct diagnosis is the key. Sometimes that means using the experts like Clemson University Entomologist, Dr. JC Chong.

“One of the questions that nobody seems to ask me but I know they have is…how can I tell whether the damage is caused by insects or fungi? The answer is…you need to get you hands dirty.” “Always go to the county extension office and get a bag…then take the entire grass, and the thatch and the soil and the root…and from specific areas of the grass, i.e.the edge of progression. This is where you have healthy grass and dead grass….right in the middle is where most of the time you are going to find bugs or disease.”

“Collect and bring samples to your local extension office and have them send it away for analysis or perform an ID there on site.

“For Sod Solutions, I’m Justin Wallace.”