Can You Identify These Garden-Dwelling Bugs?

By: Ian Fortey

Entomologists prefer to call ladybugs ladybird beetles or just lady beetles because a ladybug isn’t actually a true bug. You can tell the difference between a true bug and another type of insect by their mouth parts - true bugs only suck liquids from the plants they feed on. Since ladybugs have mouths that chew, they’re not true bugs.

Aphids are one of the most common insects throughout gardens in North America and also one of the most destructive. When they feed on plants, they make a sticky liquid called honeydew, which can grow mold and further damage your garden.

There are several species of moths that have larvae referred to as cutworms. They get the name because, when they appear from hiding, they tend to eat the first part of the plant they find; the stem. They’ll eat all the way through and cut the whole plant down.

The Colorado Potato Beetle attacks potato crops all across North America and will also go after your tomatoes and eggplants.

The Mexican bean beetle is known to eat the leaves of lima bean and snap bean plants, but also black-eyed peas, soybeans, mung beans, alfalfa, and clover. They eat through the bottom of leaves and make them look like dried out skeletons.

The flea beetle causes around $300 million worth of damage yearly to mustard and canola crops. They’re best controlled with pesticides, but predatory insects like lacewings and damsel bugs will also control the flea beetle population.

Grasshoppers are not only one of the most common bugs on earth, but they’re also one of the oldest. They date back to the Triassic period, which was 250 million years ago. These little guys were hopping at the feet of Tyrannosaurus Rexes.

Gypsy moths are considered one of the 100 most destructive invasive species in the world due to the damage caused by the larval caterpillars of the species. As adults, the moths only live for about a week and don’t even have a proper digestive system. They don’t eat at all, but they can ingest moisture.

The Japanese beetle is a destructive invasive species in North America where it’s known to feed on everything from roses to grapes to birch trees. Ironically, in their native Japan, they’re not a particularly destructive species since they are controlled by natural predators there.

Leafhoppers have legs like grasshoppers that make them adept at jumping to escape predators. Most species of leafhopper are considered pests since they will feed on your garden plants by piercing the leaves and sucking out the plant juices. Their saliva is toxic to plants and will cause the leaves to curl or develop white and yellow spots.

Psyllids are host-specific pests in your garden so they won’t jump from plant to plant. Instead, they will eat one type of plant specifically. Some species of psyllids produce what is called a “lerp,” a crystallized blob of honeydew that acts as a shell to protect the larval insects from predators.

Honey bees are just one of around 20,000 species of bees in the world. They’re obviously the most famous kind due to their ability to pollinate plants and produce honey. Humans have been harvesting honey for over 8,000 years. In the U.S. alone, honey bees make over 150 million pounds per year.

Wasps are some of the most feared insects in North America owing to their painful sting. Yellow jackets and hornets are both names commonly given to species of wasps but are all basically the same insect. Like bees, they live in a hive-like nest with a queen, but unlike bees, wasps do not produce honey.

Spider Mites are not actually members of the arachnid family at all. They infect hundreds of different kinds of plants and reproduce incredibly fast. A spider mite can reach sexual maturing in only five days and then spend the next four weeks laying up to 20 eggs a day.

The tomato hornworm is a large green caterpillar, up to 5 inches in length, that will also go after eggplants and peppers. It gets its name because it tends to be found blending into the stems of tomato plants and because it has a fairly prominent though harmless little horn on its hind end.

Blister beetles produce a substance called cantharidin that they emit when threatened. It will create a painful chemical burn, but it’s also extremely dangerous to take internally. If horses eat hay that has even a handful of blister beetles in it, they could actually die.

The name “earwig” comes from an old belief that the earwig would actually crawl into your ear, though there isn’t much evidence to support that as a real thing that happens. The earwig’s pincers look dangerous, but it’s rare that they would ever use them on a human. Instead, it’s believed they play a part in mating rituals and holding prey.

The Corn Earworm is the larval form of the corn earworm moth and can cause significant damage to corn crops. The caterpillars will eat the kernels of corn inside the husk, leaving the outside looking fine and healthy until you peel it open. It’s estimated the corn earworm causes over $100 million in damage to crops every year, and that doesn’t even include the price of insecticides to try to control them.

Snails can be found all over the world living in all kinds of conditions so long as they’re damp enough. While North American garden snails are considered pests for eating plants, Giant African Land Snails are actually kept as pets by some people. These massive snails can weigh up to 32 grams and have shells that are nearly 8 inches long.

Slugs are gastropods, like snails, but either without a shell or with an extremely small one. The common variety found in most gardens is pretty unremarkable, but some species can be quite striking. On the West Coast of North America you can find the massive, yellow banana slug and in Australia, there’s actually a species that is hot pink.

Sowbugs are sometimes called pillbugs or woodlice and are not actually insects but crustaceans. Known as isopods, there are still a number of similar but much larger creatures that live on the ocean floor. Those giant ocean isopods are sometimes kept as pets in aquariums and are even eaten in some countries.

Squash bugs, like their name implies, tend to eat only squash and pumpkin plants. They will suck the juices out of the plants causing them to wilt and die. Controlling squash bugs can also be difficult if you don't catch them when they’re young as adult squash bugs are notoriously difficult to kill.

Mosquitoes are one of the worst nuisance insects in the world and are responsible for spreading diseases like malaria, West Nile and Zika virus. There are many ways to try to control mosquito populations and protect yourself including natural predators. A bat is capable of eating well over 1,000 mosquitoes per hour and between 6,000 and 8,000 in a single night.

Whiteflies are common not just in gardens but in houseplants and in greenhouses where they hide under leaves and suck the sap out of your plants. Controlling whiteflies is harder than it seems since these little bugs are resistant to many kinds of synthetic pesticides. Interestingly, whiteflies are attracted to the color yellow, so one method of controlling them involves using yellow sticky traps to lure them in.

Cucumber beetles feed on not just cucumbers but things like muskmelon and watermelon. While feeding on the plants is a problem, it’s actually the bacteria that cucumber beetles carry that is more destructive. These bacteria, when transmitted to the plant they’re eating, will infect the whole plant causing it to wilt and die. Once infected, nothing can be done to save the plant.

Cabbage Worms are any of several species of moth larvae that feed on members of the cabbage family like broccoli or kohlrabi. One species, the cabbage looper, gets its name because it moves like an inchworm, forming a loop with its body before extending forward again.

Leaf Miner is the name for many different kinds of bugs that all feed in the same way. The larval leaf miner will eat through the tissue of leaves in a pattern that can be easily seen and looks like someone scribbled a long, winding path all over it. It can be challenging to get rid of leaf miners because they’re protected inside the leaf itself.

Cicadas come in two varieties - annual and periodical. Annual cicadas will appear every summer while the periodical cicadas will reappear on a 13 or 17-year cycle. When it’s time for periodical cicadas to reappear, all cicadas in the area will emerge simultaneously. This can be anywhere from a few thousand up to one million insects appearing.

One of the most easily identifiable butterflies in the world, Monarchs have an incredible migration journey that sees them travel 3,000 miles every year from Mexico to Canada, across the United States.

The Green Stink Bug is a nuisance not just because they will attack and eat all kinds of fruits and vegetables but because they defend themselves by producing a foul-smelling liquid in large glands on their undersides. Before more modern techniques came into use, the dried secretions of stink bugs were added to acids to make them smell more strongly.

Fire Ants are most easily identified by their bright orange color and usually nest under things like logs or other brush that makes a moist, safe environment for a colony. Invasive fire ants cause $6.5 billion to the economy every year, not just to crops but to livestock and people who require medical treatment if the stinging bites get too bad. The World Health Organization estimates 30% to 60% of people who live near fire ants are stung yearly.

The Black and Yellow Garden Spider is also called the Yellow Garden Spider, the McKinley Spider, the Zigzag Spider or the Corn Spider. They can even be found in Hawaii and are generally harmless to humans though they will bite if provoked. Their bite is on par with a sting from a bee, as long as you’re not allergic.

The Minute Pirate Bug is beneficial in controlling things like corn earworms and other pests. The problem is they also bite people and even though the Minute Pirate Bug is only maybe 2 to 5 mm long, their bite can cause a lot of pain. It may swell up like a mosquito bite in some people, or show no signs at all in others.

Lacewings are usually only seen at dusk or later at night and are prized for their pest control abilities. Millions are bred yearly in Europe to be sold as natural pest control since the young of some species can eat hundreds of aphids a week.

The damsel bug is a beneficial garden bug since it helps control the population of insects that can destroy your plants. Though they’re found in many crops, you’ll often see them on plants like alfalfa.

Even though the praying mantis can look kind of creepy and alien, there are species found in Asia that are known as Orchid Mantises that come in an array of colors like pink, purple and white. These species of Orchid Mantis are sometimes kept as pets because of how beautiful they are.

Mealybugs look like furry, white little insects that infest all kinds of plants. If you see any in your garden, chances are it's just the females as the male mealybugs are small, winged insects that don’t spend much time on plants at all.

The Mealybug Destroyer is also is sometimes called the Mealybug Ladybird. They are widely used in crops, such as citrus crops, to control the destructive mealybug population as a single mealybug destroyer larva can consume upwards of 250 mealybugs.

The Carrot Fly or Carrot Rust Fly will eat not just carrots but parsnips and celery as well, among other vegetables. They’re called “rust flies” because the leaves of the plants they eat turn a rusty color as they die, and they leave rust-colored tunnels under the skin of whatever they’re eating.

Katydids are sometimes called long-horned grasshoppers or bush crickets. Malaysia is home to the Giant Long-Legged Katydid, which can grow up to 6 inches in length. Despite their size, they’re pretty good at hiding from predators since they look so much like leaves.

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Image: Wiki Commons

About This Quiz

There are a lot of bugs in the world right now. In fact, it’s estimated that at any given moment about 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 individual insects are scuttling around. Don’t recognize that number? Don’t worry; it’s one that’s not used very often - 10 quintillion. That’s over a trillion insects for every human. And that’s just insects; the number doesn’t include things like spiders or worms or all the other creatures we cover with the blanket term of “bugs.”

With so many bugs, it’s no wonder that you run into them constantly and are always running across ones you haven’t seen before. In the U.S. alone there have been nearly 100,000 different species identified, and many more that haven’t. Some you’ll never see and some you’ll see all too often. Some can be a real benefit to you, your garden and even the environment around you while others seem like they only exist to cause you anxiety and the odd painful sting.

Knowing that you’re surrounded by bugs all the time, how many have you stopped to take a look at? Do you think you could identify all the ones that may be living on your lawn, or in the garden, just from a single picture? There’s one way to find out! Take the quiz and see how many of the most common garden-dwelling bugs you can identify!

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