Learn to identify small pests, and differentiate between helpful and harmful creatures

Sunset  – September 4, 2004

It’s easy to recognize larger pests, such as deer and rabbits–but it’s not so simple with the smaller ones. They’re often too tiny or too fast-moving to be easily seen, and they tend to conceal themselves well. Sometimes they look like their beneficial relatives: most of us can’t tell the difference between a spined soldier bug (helpful) and a squash bug (hateful). Sometimes they manage to let other creatures take the rap. Pillbugs, for example, are often wrongly convicted through circumstantial evidence: we find them at the scene of the crime and assume they did the damage. And some pests confuse us because they change their appearance as they mature: one day they’re grubs living in the ground, the next they’re shiny beetles scampering among the plants.

Note: For convenience, gardeners typically refer to most pests simply as “insects.” But while many garden pests are in fact true insects–aphids, grasshoppers, and squash bugs, for example–others are only insectlike. As far as the gardener is concerned, they’re related to true insects in the harm they do; but they belong to different scientific classes. Examples of such creatures include spider mites (arachnids), nematodes (roundworms), and slugs and snails (mollusks).