Lawn Damaging Insects: Identification and Control

Brian McMaster

A uniform, healthy green lawn can make your home feel complete and provide great curb appeal.  Unfortunately, there are a number of bugs that look at your lawn differently.  To them, your lawn is their next delicious meal!


The most significant insect threats to your lawn in Central Florida are the southern chinch bug, turf caterpillars, and mole crickets.  Keep reading to learn more about each of these insect pests and what to look for if you suspect there are bugs eating your lawn.

Southern Chinch Bug

The southern chinch bug is a St. Augustinegrass lawn’s most significant insect threat.  And since a majority of Florida lawns are St. Augustine, the chinch bug is number one on our list.  It is said that chinch bugs are responsible for millions of dollars in damage and efforts to control them each year.


Less than a quarter of an inch long as adults, chinch bugs can be difficult to spot.  The damage caused is however much more noticeable.  Chinch bugs feed at the base of the grass by sucking sap and juices from the plant tissue.  This feeding leads to the eventual death of the grass.  If left uncontrolled, chinch bugs will continue to kill larger and larger areas of your lawn.

Turf Caterpillars (Tropical Sod Webworm & Fall Armyworm

While their common names include ‘worm’ these insects are actually caterpillars.  The caterpillar, which is the larvae stage of these insects, is responsible for the feeding damage that can occur to all types of lawns.  


As the very hungry caterpillars grow, their feeding and lawn damage increase.  Damage usually appears as large irregular shaped circular areas that appear scalped or shorter than the surrounding healthy areas.  Closer inspection will show chewed leaf blades.  Sod webworms grow up to an inch long and can be found in the thatch layer among their fresh green frass (aka digested grass droppings).  Armyworms are typically larger and gray to brown in color.


If controlled early, the damage from feeding will soon subside as new blades of grass grow back.  Severe damage from sod webworms or armyworms is typically seen in shaded areas, where the grass is already stressed from inadequate sunlight and struggles to recover.

Mole Cricket

Mole crickets are a subsurface insect pest that are named exactly how they look.  Growing to a size of 1 to 2 inches, mole crickets have claw-like front limbs that are used to burrow in the soil, much like those of an actual mole.

  

Damage to your lawn occurs as mole crickets tunnel through the soil, both disrupting and feeding on the fine grass roots.  Grass in these areas will die and become sparse, leaving behind evidence of loose soil and raised tunnels.


While it does occur, injury from mole cricket damage in St. Augustine lawns is generally minimal.  Finer bladed varieties like Bermuda are however highly susceptible to severe mole cricket damage.


How to prevent and control lawn damaging insects?

Promote a Healthy Lawn

The first step to limiting lawn damage caused by insects is to start with basic cultural practices that encourage a strong healthy lawn.  Additionally, your irrigation must be in tip-top shape.  Chinch bugs especially are attracted to drought stressed areas.

Insecticide Application

While having a healthy lawn is the first defense against the toughest turf damaging insects, it likely won’t be enough.  More often than not, you will need to treat your lawn in order to prevent your lawn from being destroyed by insect pests.


Early intervention is key to helping control existing insect populations.  Since the insects will be smaller in size and in fewer numbers, effective control is therefore more likely.

Consult a Professional Lawn Service

If you really want to be sure you have your lawn protected from turf damaging insects it is wise to entrust a professional lawn care service.  Our annual lawn care programs include protection against turf damaging insects and include free service visits if you suspect something is eating your lawn!