Outdoor Insect ID Guide

Many of the flying, crawling and wiggling insects and insect-like creatures we encounter in our yards are there for a reason. Whether they are critical pollinators for our lawns and gardens, provide natural pest control by eating more harmful bugs, or contribute to healthier soils, most of them are pretty great. However, there are some harmful, biting or sucking, stinging and nuisance pests that we’d rather not encounter one-on-one. At Sunday, we’re here to help you navigate the world of managing insects and insect-like pests through Integrated Pest Management (IPM). 

How to ID & Manage Insects (and insect-like pests) with IPM

  1. Prevention. Preventing insect and insect-like pests from your outdoor spaces is the first step in an IPM strategy.
  2. Know what they like. Determine the type of habitats, locations in the yard and perimeter areas near the home that the pests are living in and/or frequenting. 
  3. Detection. Spend some time looking around your yard – look in the lawn, the garden, around seating areas, places debris has accumulated and anywhere you’ve previously noticed a pest.
  4. Correct ID. Identify the insect using vetted identification resources so you know what you’re up against. Some of our favorites:
    1. iNaturalist or Seek (great app for kids to learn about the natural world!)
    2. Picture Insect
    3. Cornell’s What’s Bugging You Guide
    4. Scroll for more ID info!
  5. Learn more. Find out all you need to know about the pest to make sure you’re able to manage the pest effectively. Use our guide below or check out the following resources: 
    1. Cornell Insect Lab Factsheets 
    2. Insects in the City: Yard & Garden
    3. UCR Entomology
  6. Monitor. Track pest activity and treatment.
    1. Control first by following IPM and prevention information. Then, make adjustments to yard management and only rely on chemicals as a last-resort.
    2. Monitor the areas where you are managing insect and insect-like pests and track changes (pest presence) over time.  

Most Common Outdoor Insects & Insect-like Pests

Ants (odorous house ants – Tapinoma sessile)

Quick ID: 

  1. less than 1/10 of an inch
  2. dull brown color
  3. funky blue cheese smell when crushed
  4. no obvious node on the waist 

Where are they found: Nationwide, both indoors and outdoors.

Type of damage: In landscape and house perimeter, nuisance ant that will form trails inside the home 

Prevention: 

  1. Remove landscape features like borders that encourage nests (wood, rocks, slate). 

Removal: This ant is difficult to manage even with pesticides. The best way to eliminate colonies is to use baits that are brought back to the nest and shared. Liquid insecticide applications may kill foraging ants, but may not have a measurable impact on the colony.

Sunday Pest Control: Bug Doom

 

Oriental cockroach – Blatta orientalis

Quick ID: 

  1. about 1 inch in size
  2. long and dark brown to black, shiny
  3. males have short wings, females have very short wings
  4. long antennae
  5. distinct cerci, or paired appendages on the rear

Where are they found: Nationwide Found mainly around structure perimeters and areas with moisture and sanitation issues (basements, bathrooms, drains, sewers and landscapes). Has become naturalized as far north as NY, which means it lives outdoors and overwinters.

Type of damage: Sanitation pest that feeds on food spillage and organic waste – including feces, which is why they are associated with broken sewer lines). Possible mechanical vector of pathogens (meaning they can transfer pathogens from one location to another on their bodies). 

Prevention: 

  1. Can enter buildings from the perimeter or through pipes. 
    1. Prevent them from entering the structure with door sweeps or weather stripping.
  2. Monitor with sticky traps indoors.
  3. Remove food/water sources and reduce moisture. 
  4. Reduce hiding spots (cardboard, bags, piles of plant debris, clutter).
  5. Trim shrubs or remove ground covers from the perimeter of the building to reduce hiding spots. 

Removal: Perimeter treatment of building and landscape will help to eradicate the pest outdoors.

Sunday product: Bug Doom

 

Red imported fire ants – Solenopsis invicta

Quick ID: 

  1. bright red
  2. workers consist of many sizes between   to ¼  inch 
  3. waist has 2 distinct nodes (bumps between second and third body sections)
  4. mounds of soil no more than 18 inches in diameter
  5. small red ants flood out when disturbed and will inflict multiple painful stings  

Where are they found: Found in southern USin lawns and landscape.

Type of damage: Beware of mounds! Fire ant stings cause pain and small welts on the skin. Fire ants will also form mounds in the lawn reaching all the way 18”  in diameter. 

Prevention: No cultural control recommendations. 

Removal: Baits are preferred to kill fire ants – they collect the bait and then share it within the entire colony. 

Sunday Product: Fire Ant Fighter

 

Harvester ants – Pogonomyrmex species (many species)

Quick ID: 

  1. workers range in size from  ¼ – ½ inch
  2. orange to red or brownish-black 
  3. waist has 2 distinct nodes
  4. midsection has one pair of spines on the top (most species)
  5. many species have long hairs on their head forming a ‘beard’ 

Where are they found: Found across the US except the Northeast. Usually live within the lawn or landscape, and will leave large bare spots in lawns.

Type of damage: Beware of mounds! Harvester ants are capable of stinging and stings cause pain and small welts on the skin. The presence of harvester ants will also cause bald patches in the lawn.

Prevention: No cultural control recommendations. 

Removal: Baits are preferred to kill harvester ants. Similar to fire ants, they collect the bait and then share it within the entire colony. 

Sunday product: Fire Ant Fighter

 

Housefly on a gray background close up.

House flies – Musca domestica

Quick ID:  

  1. adults are ⅕ inch long
  2. four longitudinal stripes on their thorax (body segment behind the head)
  3. abdomen (last segment) is variable in color, from yellowish to gray 

Where are they found: Nationwide. Outdoors, flies are common where food is prepared and consumed, in areas of poor sanitation, or around feces. Indoors, can be found where food is prepared and consumed if windows and doors are left open.

Type of Damage: House flies are a nuisance pest and potential mechanical vectors of human pathogens. This is because they feed on things like pet feces and decaying garbage and then transfer pathogens to food items and to food preparation surfaces. 

Prevention: 

  1. Window screens and keeping doors closed is the best way to prevent indoor problems with flies. 
  2. Insect light traps are used indoors to intercept flies that may be pulled in, and fly tape is available too for locations where food is not prepared.
  3. The most important prevention step is source reduction: eliminate decaying organic vegetation such as piles of grass clippings, wet garbage left out for more than a week, piles of pet feces, etc. These are all breeding sources for flies, which can reproduce rapidly in warm months. 

Removal: Flies can be spot treated to kill them, but the same effect can be achieved with the use of a fly swatter or fly traps.

Sunday Product: Bug Doom

 

Northern house and Asian tiger mosquitoes- Culex pipiens and Aedes albopictus

  1. Northern house mosquito
    1. brown
    2. less than ½ inch 
    3. bites at dawn and dusk
  2. Asian tiger mosquito  
    1. black and white
    2. ½ inch 
    3. bites during the day

Where are they found: Nationwide. Mainly found outdoors in the yard and garden.

Type of damage: Biting mosquitoes are capable of transmitting species-specific pathogens. Some are container breeders, able to reproduce in tiny amounts of water as small as a soda bottle cap. Others breed in standing water found in tree holes, puddles, bird baths, gutters, toys, and other areas where stagnant water is found around the yard. 

Prevention: 

  1. Dump standing water outside.
  2. Inspect and clean out gutters and bird baths regularly. 
  3. Look for hidden standing water, including tarps, toys, planters, trash, recycling, and gutter drain extenders.
  4. Keep grass mowed and trim landscape plants to reduce shade and moisture.

Removal: If breeding sites are eliminated by removing standing water, treatments may not be needed. 

Sunday product: Mosquito Deleto

 

Spiders – many species

Note:  Of greatest concern are venomous spiders, such as black widow, hobo, wolf and brown recluse spiders.

Quick ID: 

  1. eight legs
  2. two body parts (cephalothorax and abdomen)
  3. no more than 3 inch leg span (fishing and wolf spiders and 1 inch long bodies)  

Where are they found: Nationwide. Usually found on the first floor, basement, and perimeter. If outdoors, usually found in landscaping.

Type of damage: Potential for bites, especially with wolf spiders, but generally an aesthetic pest that causes fear. 

Prevention: 

  1. Vacuuming or sweeping behind, above, and under isolated spaces tends to deter spiders.
  2. Reduce clutter and food sources for other insects that act as food for spiders. 
  3. Reduce moisture in the perimeter landscape to reduce all arthropod activity. 
  4. Simplify perimeter landscape to reduce hiding spaces. 

Removal: In the case of gathering spiders and their hatching eggs, a vacuum cleaner with a bag is the best defense. Vacuum and immediately move vacuum outside, remove bag into a trash bag, close and dispose of promptly.

Sunday product: Bug Doom

 

Ticks – mainly outdoor species 

(Blacklegged tick – Ixodes scapularis, Lone star tick  – Amblyomma americanum, American dog tick – Dermacentor variabilis)

Quick ID:

Blacklegged tick – Ixodes scapularis

 

  1. teardrop shape
  2. black legs and a round scutum (the hard section behind a tick’s head) 
  3. females have a red abdomen
  4. found under shrubs, along the edges of and inside wooded areas

 

Lone star tick – Amblyomma americanum

  • reddish-brown
  • round-shape with long mouthparts
  • females have a white spot
  • found in lawns, tall grass, and shrubs

 

American dog tick – Dermacentor variabilis

  1. males have a mosaic pattern against a dark brown body
  2. females have large off-white, patterned scutum against a dark brown body
  3. short mouthparts
  4. found in wooded edges, lawns, and closer to homes

Where are they found: Nationwide but regional species differences.

Type of damage: Blood-feeding ectoparasites capable of transmitting species-specific pathogens to people, dogs, and possibly cats.

Prevention: 

  1. Determine what tick species might be present on the property by considering the habitat of the home or check tick distribution maps available from the CDC. 
    1. Woods and the wooded edge is habitat for blacklegged ticks that need moisture
    2. open fields, roadways, etc. are prime habitat for lone star and American dog ticks, which are tolerant of dry areas.
    3. Homeowners can survey for ticks using a drag cloth.
  1. Tick Checks 101: 
    1. First, check your clothing and outdoor gear! Ticks hide in folded areas, near belt loops and around your boots and socks. Sunday ProTip: if you find ticks on clothing, you can tumble dry gear and clothing for 10-15 minutes on high heat to kill the ticks.
    2. Check your entire body for ticks. We recommend checking all the joint regions (knees, elbows, armpits) and all areas near your hairline. Ticks love these spots! 
    3. You’re probably dirty from spending all that time outside right? A good way to thoroughly tick check is to just take a shower and check yourself head to toe. Plus, ticks really give us that creepy crawly feeling anyways – don’t they? 
    4. Finally, make sure to check and remove ticks from your furry friends after spending time outside. Bonus tip? Use tick and flea collars or vet recommended topical applications to prevent ticks to begin with! 

Removal: Crack and crevice treatment where ticks are found and where pets sleep using an appropriately labeled product.

Sunday product: Nix Tix

 

Cited Sources

Cornell CALS. New York State Integrated Pest Management. Cornell University

UC IPM. What Is Integrated Pest Management?. UCANR.

Penn State Extension. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Tactics. Penn State University.  

Frank, S. et al. Integrated Pest Management (IPM). NC State Extension.