Most Common Bermudagrass Pests

Insect on grass blade

Like most plants that live in the southern and subtropical areas of the U.S., bermudagrass has its share of bug issues. Whether you prefer to use chemicals or want your bermudagrass lawn to be chem-free, there are steps you can take to prevent and treat the most common bermudagrass pests in your lawn.

The most common bermudagrass pests include:

  1. Armyworms
  2. Bermudagrass mites
  3. Bermudagrass scale
  4. Ground pearls
  5. Hunting billbugs
  6. Mole crickets
  7. Sod webworms
  8. Nematodes
  9. Rhodesgrass scale
  10. White grubs
  11. Bermudagrass basics


In large numbers, armyworms act in an army-like fashion, “marching” over a lawn or crop and destroying it in a matter of days. There are many species of armyworms that live throughout the U.S., but the fall armyworm is the most likely species to munch on your bermudagrass lawn.

Fall armyworms come in colors ranging from black or gray to brown and yellowish-green to green. Their most distinguishing feature is an inverted “Y” shape on their head and stripes down the length of their body. In their fourth and fifth larval stages (which may last only two to three days), they do the most damage to your lawn, eating 80% of their total food intake right before they turn into pupae. 

Signs you have armyworms

Adult armyworms are moths, but the larval (immature forms) are caterpillars that will eat your lawn. Here are a few signs that you may have armyworms munching on your lawn.

  • “Window panes” on the tips of the grass blades: In the early stages of feeding, young caterpillars eat a “window pane” on the tips of the grass. Unless you regularly get down on your hands and knees to inspect your lawn, most homeowners won’t notice these “window panes” at the tops of their grass blades.
  • Rapid defoliation: In large numbers and in the later larval stages, fall armyworms will “march” across the lawn, causing a near-total knockdown of your turf in a few days. What looked like drought one day may expand dramatically by the time you get home from work. 

These extreme infestations are rare and usually follow warmer winters and rainy, cooler weather in summer and early fall. Warmer winters mean a greater initial population, while wet summers create an ideal environment for eggs and young larvae, broadening the population even further.

Smaller populations are more common and won’t cause as much damage; you’ll likely see “chomp” marks on the sides of the grass blades, but you’ll still have a lawn. Cold winters and natural predators usually work together to keep these caterpillars in check.

Pro Tip: When you spot browning turf, the best time to scout for fall armyworms in the lawn is in the early evening or early morning.

How to get rid of armyworms

If you catch these pests when they are still small, try low-impact insecticides, such as Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) or halofenozide. Spinosad is another low-impact option. 

Conventional insecticides may be more effective in extreme cases. Here are a few insecticides that control fall armyworms:

  • Permethrin
  • Esfenvalerate
  • Carbaryl
  • Bifenthrin
  • Most granular or liquid insecticides will kill armyworms. Even if armyworms aren’t advertised on the front of the package, they are likely listed on the back.

Since armyworms may have five or more generations per year in warm climates, repeated applications of insecticides may be necessary. Treatment thresholds are about two to three armyworms per square foot.

If you’ve treated the lawn, give the turf time to recover. Bermudagrass grows aggressively, which is a plus after an armyworm infestation marches across your lawn. Its stolons (above-ground stems) and rhizomes (below-ground stems) allow a healthy, actively growing lawn to recover well.

How to prevent armyworms

Sometimes, there is nothing you can do to prevent armyworms from destroying your lawn, especially in an outbreak year. In most cases, however, there are things you can do to make your lawn less attractive to these pests.

  • Water well. Water the lawn at 1-1 ½ inches once per week. (Lawns in sandy soils should be watered at the same amount but broken up into two to three waterings per week.) Applying too much water often leads to weak grass and a shallow root system.
  • Dial back your fertilizer regime to twice or so per year, and use a slow-release fertilizer. Rapid or excessive growth pushes out too much top growth, which is super tasty for young caterpillars.
  • Toss out the insecticides. Good bugs and natural predators are an essential part of the local ecosystem and keep insect populations in check.

Bermudagrass mites

Unlike armyworms, bermudagrass mites suck instead of chomp on your prized bermuda lawn. These white to cream-colored or translucent mites (too small to see without magnification) have a worm-like form and suck sap from the grass stems, which stunts the growth of the plant. This turns the grass plants into small, “witches broom” or fan-shaped specimens instead of the tall, elongated stems of a healthy plant.

These mites are only found in bermudagrass and can reproduce quickly, every seven to 10 days, and are found throughout the South.

Signs you have bermudagrass mites

Unless you have superhero-level eyesight, bermudagrass mites are not visible to the unaided eye. Look for the fan-shaped witches broom grass plants. To be sure, contact your local Cooperative Extension Office and ask if they have a state plant-pest diagnostic clinic that will identify this pest. 

  • If you have dead spots on the lawn, look around the edges of the dead areas for the characteristic “witches broom” plant shapes. 
  • Look under the leaf sheath for signs of eggs. 
  • You may first see damage in late spring. Patches of grass that don’t green up along with the rest of the lawn or are yellow and not growing well may indicate bermudagrass mites.  

How to get rid of bermudagrass mites

There are no chemicals for home use that kill bermudagrass mites. This actually makes your life a lot simpler because you can focus on standard lawn care instead of buying and properly applying and storing chemicals. Here are a few lawn care practices that help control bermudagrass mites:

  • Take a soil test: Proper nutrient levels and soil pH help ensure you have 1) a balanced ratio of nutrients in the lawn and 2) that the soil pH is within an acceptable range, which ensures your lawn nutrients will be absorbed by the grass.
  • Mow bermudagrass on the shorter side, and collect your clippings as long as mites are present. The standard recommendation is to mow bermudagrass at 1-2 inches, so aim for the shorter side of that range.
  • Aerate and dethatch. Aerate compacted soil so grass roots grow deep and strong. Dethatch in late spring, but go over uninfected areas first. Then, go back and dethatch the affected areas.
  • Water deeply once per week. Water sandy soils two times per week. This helps create strong roots.

How to prevent bermudagrass mites

The best prevention is proper lawn care. Refer to the section above for the best tips on helping your lawn grow strong and resist insect damage.

Bermudagrass scale

When you think of the word “scale,” you might regret that chocolate cake last night. But bermudagrass scale has nothing to do with weight — it’s an insect. These tiny, white insects come in at only 0.06 inches and, to the extent that you can see them, are in the shape of a clam. (You may need a magnifying glass for this.)

Like bermudagrass mites, bermudagrass scale insects are sucking insects (not chewing) and have a feast drinking fluids from the grass. There are at least two generations per year.

Signs you have bermudagrass scale

Bermudagrass scale insects congregate under leaf sheaths, on stolons (above-ground stems), and along the crown (the part of the plant just above soil). If there are lots of these pests, they’ll form a white covering on the crown and stem.

  • If your lawn is squishy underfoot, you may have too much thatch. If you have too much thatch, conditions are ripe for bermudagrass scale.
  • Turf looks brown or yellow and under-watered.
  • Turf is stunted and not growing to its normal size or height.

How to get rid of bermudagrass scale

Bermudagrass scale insects love thatch and the shade that it provides. Also, other sources of shade, such as trees or bushes, can provide ideal conditions for this pest.

  • Get rid of excess shade. Bermudagrass loves full sun and will decline in shaded areas. 
  • Irrigate the lawn properly. If your bermudagrass lawn is suffering from too little water, irrigate the lawn with 1-1 ½ inches of water once per week (up to two or three times per week in sandy soils). 

Bermudagrass lawns that are suffering from drought or too much shade are more likely to have bermudagrass scale insects. In the lawn’s already weakened state, a scale infestation may cause death in parts of the lawn.

How to prevent bermudagrass scale

Follow the steps in the section above, namely:

  • Dethatch when thatch levels rise above one-half inch
  • Add shade-loving ornamentals or install a lawn alternative if you have bermuda that is struggling in shaded areas. 
Lyle Buss | Insect Identification Lab | University of Florida Entomology & Nematology Department

Ground pearls

Ground pearls are soil-dwelling insects that suck juices from the roots of your bermudagrass lawn. The immature pearls create a covering for themselves, giving them the appearance of little pellets or pearls underneath the soil surface.

Signs you have ground pearls

  • Look for small or irregular circles of yellowing grass in mid-summer. (Mid-summer is when the immature ground pearls or nymphs emerge from their eggs.) These may be particularly noticeable during short, dry periods.
  • If you want a sure diagnosis, look on the edge between a brown patch and healthy grass. Dig 6-10 inches deep and look for tiny pearls near the grass roots.

How to get rid of ground pearls

To get rid of ground pearls, don’t reach for a product on a shelf: Chemical and biological controls for ground pearls have not proven effective, so none are recommended.

There are, however, things you can do to reduce the damage to your lawn:

  • Install or overseed with a resistant grass. “Celebration” bermuda is resistant to gnawing from ground pearls, more so in heavy rather than sandy soils.
  • Take good care of your lawn. You can’t prevent insects from munching on your lawn, but you can strengthen your lawn so that insects that munch don’t do as much damage to the grass. 
  • Mow bermuda lawns at 1-2 inches 
  • Water once every five to 10 days 
  • Fertilize starting in late spring with 1-4 ½ pounds of nitrogen fertilizer per 1,000 square feet of lawn

How to prevent ground pearls

Besides taking good care of your lawn to minimize potential damage, look at the root systems of plants and sod before you install them in your lawn. Ground pearls can sometimes hitch a ride on the plant roots, so pay attention before you plant.

Billbug | Fyn Kynd | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Hunting billbugs

Hunting billbugs are strange-looking pests that are members of the weevil family and a common pest in bermuda and Zoysia lawns. The adults’ unusual appearance comes from their long “bills” and bent antennae that protrude from their heads. Adults range in color from gray or black to red-brown and are one-quarter to one-half inch long. The larvae (immature stage) are white to yellow with a tan to brown head.

After overwintering, adult females lay their eggs inside the stems of the grass in spring. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae feast on the inside of the stem until the fourth larval stage. At this time, they come out of the stem and feast on the root system. The larvae do most of the significant damage to the grass plant, as adults focus more on the blades.

To Note: Billbugs may have up to six generations per year in warmer climates like Florida. Two generations are more common in places like North Carolina.

Signs you have hunting billbugs

  • Grass is discolored (yellow or brown) or thinning
  • Irrigation does not improve turf discoloration
  • Hollow stems with frass (excrement) inside

How to get rid of hunting billbugs

If you’ve tested positive for billbugs in your lawn (treatments for all species are the same), here are a few ways to manage their population:

Biological control

  • Try nematodes: The University of Georgia reports that Heterorhabditis bacteriophora,  Steinernema carpocapsae, and S. feltiae may be effective against billbug populations. Pay careful attention to the application instructions for the best results.

Chemical control

  • For larvae: Clothianidin, imidacloprid, chlorantraniliprole, and cyantraniliprole
  • For adults: Bifenthrin

How to prevent hunting billbugs

“An ounce of prevention…,” as the saying goes. Here are a few ways to prevent hunting billbugs in your bermudagrass lawn: 

  • Before you install sod, check the root system, stems, and crowns (the part of the plant at soil level) to ensure no billbugs are hanging out.
  • Don’t overmanage your lawn. Too much water and fertilizer won’t do your bermudagrass any favors; in fact, this often leads to more disease and insect pressure. 
    • Mow at 1-2 inches
    • Don’t water until you see signs of drought stress (wilting or discolored grass, or footprints that stay on the lawn)
    • Fertilize at 1-4 ½ pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet
Mole cricket
Mole cricket | oliver.dodd | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Mole crickets

Mole crickets have been making waves in home lawns in recent years. Depending on the species, these pests will feed on both the shoots and roots of your bermuda lawn. 

These soil-tunneling crickets have specially designed front legs with “hands” that look like those of a mole, hence the name. They cut the grass off at the roots as they tunnel, leaving patches of broken earth and dead grass in their wake. You’ll see the most damage when adults are most active — spring and fall.

Signs you have mole crickets

  • Patches of brown, dying grass, or grass that pulls up without roots
  • Bumpy tunnels
  • Wildlife, such as racoons and birds, digging in the lawn to eat the crickets
  • Crickets that come to the surface of the lawn after you do a drench test (a popular test for many insects, not only mole crickets)
  • Mole crickets are nocturnal, so if you go out at night, you may see them as they fly, tunnel, or call for mates.

How to get rid of mole crickets

  • Use nematodes: Steinernema scapterisci are beneficial nematodes that infiltrate the host (mole cricket) and insert a bacterium that kills the mole cricket. These nematodes are an ace in the hole for both southern and tawny mole cricket species.

How to prevent mole crickets

Cultural and biological control

  • North Carolina State University (NCSU) notes that the non-hybrid bermudagrass cultivars with their coarser grass blades show less susceptibility to mole crickets. 

If you can’t reseed or overseed your lawn, check out this biological control agent, the Larra wasp.

  • Attract the Larra bicolor wasp: These wasps lay their eggs on mole crickets. When the eggs hatch, they feed on the cricket, eventually causing it to die. Install these plants to attract this wasp to your lawn:
    • Partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata)
    • Star flower (Pentas lanceolata) (white)
    • Shrubby false buttonweed (Spermacoce verticillata)
  • Maintain a healthy lawn. Don’t overwater, as mole crickets seem to prefer moist soils.
  • Turn off lights until after nightfall, or use filters or yellow bulbs to lessen their attractiveness.

Chemical control

  • Few chemicals are available for home lawns. 
Sod webworm
Sean Clifford | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0

Sod webworms

If you’ve ever seen lawn moths flying about close to the surface of your lawn, you may have seen an adult sod webworm. In their larval stage, sod webworms are caterpillars, which will eventually turn into a pupae and finally into a moth (just like the butterfly life cycle you learned about back in school). 

It’s not the moths you have to treat: They won’t harm your lawn. It’s the caterpillar stage that will chomp, chomp, chomp on your turfgrass to grow big and strong. Mature sod webworms grow up to 1 inch in length and come in many colors (even translucent), depending on their species. 

Signs you have sod webworms

  • Small patches of browning turf. Spots may get larger and join together as the caterpillars continue to feed.
  • Patches of brown turf have an irregular shape.
  • Worms come to the surface after you’ve done a drench test (same test you can use to test for mole crickets).

How to get rid of sod webworms

Biological and natural control 

  • Azadirachtin: A product derived from the neem tree.
  • Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) ssp. Aizawai OR ssp. Kurstaki: A bacteria that is most effective on the young larval stages of sod webworms.
  • Nematodes: Use Steinernema carpocapsae nematodes to control unwanted sod webworms in your lawn.
  • Spinosad: A type of bacteria that can help control sod webworm populations.

Chemical control

  • Bendiocarb
  • Chlorpyrifos
  • Diazinon
  • Halofenozide
  • Isofenphos

Most lawn insect products at your favorite big box store will treat sod webworms, even if it’s not advertised on the front of the product. Look at the (long) list on the back; you’ll likely see sod webworms listed.

How to prevent sod webworms

  • Mow bermudagrass at 1-2 inches.
  • Fertilize judiciously. Too much fertilizer leads to excessive top growth, which sod webworms love to munch on.
  • Sod webworms tend to hang out in dry parts of the lawn. Irrigate deeply, about once per week (or twice in sandy soils), with 1-1 ½ inches of water.

These nematodes aren’t the beneficial kind. These are plant-parasitic nematodes (PPN) that pierce the roots of your grass with a needle-like “mouth spear” and hurt the appearance of your lawn. PPN are common on golf courses and home bermuda lawns.

Soybean cyst nematode under a microscope
Soybean cyst nematode | Agricultural Research Service | Wikimedia Commons | Public domain


These nematodes aren’t the beneficial kind. These are plant-parasitic nematodes (PPN) that pierce the roots of your grass with a needle-like “mouth spear” and hurt the appearance of your lawn. PPN are common on golf courses and home bermuda lawns.

Signs you have nematodes

Since nematodes are microscopic, you’ll have to rely on a soil test to determine if you have them or not, but there are a few ways you can narrow down the possibilities.

  • Thinning, yellow, or brown patches
  • Lawn seems to decline even with adequate water
  • Grass dies; weeds encroach
  • Root systems are rotted, short (less than 1 inch), and have few side roots

How to get rid of nematodes

You can’t get rid of nematodes, but you can manage them. 

  • Choose another grass, such as bahiagrass, which is relatively resistant to nematodes
  • Make sure you have the right grass in the right place. Bermudagrass doesn’t thrive in anything but full sun. If you have bermuda planted in shade, nematodes may knock it down completely. Choose shade-loving ornamentals or mulch for that area.
  • Wait for the lawn to recover. Nematode populations vary each year. Work on strengthening the grass roots to help the grass grow strong again next season. Or, paint the lawn to maintain a healthy, green color while you wait to keep your landscape attractive during a less than glamorous season of life.

What about chemicals? There are no common pest control products (like pesticides, natural products, or biological controls) to control nematodes in home lawns.

How to prevent nematodes

You can’t prevent nematodes, but you can prevent excessive damage to your lawn. Build a resilient lawn to minimize damage when nematodes hit:

  • Build a strong lawn
  • Water well: Water deeply but infrequently (about once per week in heavy soils and two to three times per week in sandy soils). This makes the grass roots grow deep into the soil to look for water and strengthens the whole plant against future stresses.
  • Add compost as a topdressing after you aerate. Compost helps improve soil drainage and health (as does aeration).
  • Fertilize, but not too much. Too much fertilizer may lead to excessive thatch, which prevents air, water, and nutrients from reaching the soil level.
  • Dethatch if necessary. If your lawn has over one-half inch of thatch, it’s time to get rid of that excessive buildup on top of your soil.
  • Set your mower on the tall side. There is a correlation between root growth and shoot growth. Taller shoots generally mean taller roots.

Rhodesgrass scale 

Also known as the Rhodesgrass mealybug, Rhodesgrass scale is a common insect pest in bermudagrass lawns. Rhodesgrass scale insects suck on your grass, removing vital water and nutritions from the plant. 

Adult Rhodesgrass scale insects cover themselves in a cotton-like, white waxy substance and develop a long “tail” or filament that is about 1 inch long. They feed underneath leaf sheaths at grass nodes. Many of them often congregate in these spots, so you may see a white, waxy covering on this portion of the grass plant.

Signs you have Rhodesgrass scale

  • Stunted growth
  • Yellowing turf
  • White, waxy substance on grass blades 
  • Honeydew on the grass (a clear, sugary substance) that is covered with dark mold
  • Affected areas may have some green amongst the yellow turf
  • Turf will eventually turn from yellow to brown and die

How to get rid of Rhodesgrass scale

  • Bag your clippings. This will remove part of the population from your lawn.
  • Practice good lawn care: 
  • Remove thatch if it’s over one-half inch 
  • Mow at 1-2 inches 
  • Aerate heavy soils 
  • Fertilize judiciously
  • Water deeply but infrequently
  • Use insecticides? Contact insecticides are not a good option for mealybugs; their waxy coating is an effective barrier against these chemicals. Systemic insecticides are more effective. 

However, for most mealybug outbreaks, systemic insecticides may be overkill and may not be a good choice if you live next to water or have a shallow water table. Educate yourself about any product you plan to use and follow the label precisely.

How to prevent Rhodesgrass scale

Mealybugs live in the ecosystem along with all of the other bugs and critters and can’t be eliminated completely. Follow the good lawn care practices above to create a strong lawn that can weather the insect storms that come its way.

White grub on soil
White grub | Patty O’Hearn Kickham | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

White grubs

White grubs are the immature life stage of various types of beetles, such as the June beetle (June bug) and southern masked chafer. These soil dwellers are chewing insects that chomp on grass roots. 

The larger larvae are responsible for most of the damage, which you’ll notice in summer or late summer into fall. Your turf is, understandably, likely to dry out in the warm weather, as the root damage limits its ability to uptake water. 

Signs you have white grubs

  • Summer and fall turf decline
  • Turf dries out easily in hot weather, even with adequate water
  • Grass easily pulls up from the ground
  • You dig into the lawn and see C-shaped grubs with three pairs of legs in the root zone of the grass

How to get rid of white grubs

If you find grubs in the soil, make sure white grubs are what you’re dealing with. (Billbug larvae look very similar.) This way, you’ll avoid a misdiagnosis and avoid wasting time or money on unnecessary treatments.

Biological and natural control

  • Look for nematodes in the Heterorhabditis and Steinernema genera. These beneficial nematodes may reduce these munching larvae by 50% or more.
  • If you have Japanese beetle grubs, milky spore (Bacillus popilliae) may be an effective control measure.
  • Spike aeration or spiked sandals can kill these grubs as you walk or run the machine over the lawn.

Chemical control

  • Halofenozide (an insect growth regulator)
  • Imidacloprid

These two chemicals are most effective if used early in life when grubs are less than one-half inch.

If you already have grub damage in the lawn and/or the grubs are larger, consider:

  • Carbaryl
  • Trichlorfon

If you have a heavy thatch layer in the lawn (over one-half inch), dethatch the lawn prior to applying chemicals so that they will have better contact with the soil.

As always, know that most insecticides are indiscriminate, meaning they’ll kill good bugs and earthworms, for example, in addition to the bugs you don’t want. They also may be toxic to wildlife, birds, or local waterways. Exhaust all other options first, and speak with an expert at your local Cooperative Extension Office for local advice.

How to prevent white grubs

  • Encourage natural enemies that eat larvae, eggs, and grubs. One way to do this is to eliminate insecticides from your landscape. These natural enemies won’t be as effective as an insecticide treatment, but they serve as a buffer against large infestations.
  • Build a strong lawn to encourage strong roots. This won’t prevent grubs in your lawn, but grasses with deep, strong root systems will show less damage when grubs decide to show up.
  • Consider preventative chemical applications. NCSU notes that products such as Mach 2® and Merit® are effective at preventing future outbreaks in lawns with a history of grub problems if they are applied before the eggs are laid.

Bermudagrass basics

Now that you know which insects frequent bermudagrass lawns, learn more about your grass to help your bermudagrass lawn thrive.

Type of grass: Warm-season grass
Growth habit: Stolons and rhizomes
Shade tolerance: Low — needs full sun
Foot traffic tolerance: High
Drought resistance: High
Diseases: Diseases and insects are common
Mowing: 1-2 inches
Maintenance: Grows fast, so mow often. Develops thatch; needs regular fertilization.
Soil pH: 6-6.5
Soil conditions: Tolerates most soil types
Other points to note: Bermudagrass is an aggressive grower and outcompetes many weeds due to this aggressive growth habit. The downside is that it will tunnel into flower beds and can be considered invasive.

If you’d like to leave your bermudagrass pests in the hands of a pro, contact one of Lawn Love’s lawn care teams. They’ll diagnose and treat your bermudagrass pests and help maintain your lawn’s health going forward. 

Main photo credit: Egor Kamelev | Pexels

Sarah Bahr

Sarah is a writer who has previously worked in the lawn care industry. In her spare time, she likes to garden, raise chickens, and mow the grass with her battery-powered lawn mower.