What's This Bug?

bugs garden pests insects Jun 15, 2022

Sometimes I get inspiration from various gardening Facebook groups for what to write about in my weekly blog article. I look at what people are asking in the group.

Probably the most popular question is something like this:

"Anybody know bug what this is?"

It's a good question to ask! You can't respond effectively to an insect if you don't know what it is!

Now that we have the Internet, it's relatively easy to find out what any given insect. You don't have to take a picture, post in a gardening group and hope for a response.

Sometimes you get conflicting responses or someone posts a snarky reply. 

You can figure it out on your own. Here's how to search online to find out what kind of insect you've seen. 

It's helpful if you can identify some basic categories of insects such as:

  • Beetles
  • Caterpillars
  • Bees and wasps
  • Flies and gnats
  • True bugs (yes, this is a legitimate category!)
  • Butterflies and moths

Yes, there are more categories and I'm certainly not claiming to be an entomologist! If you know the basic classifications, it can help you formulate an effective search. 

(Those are Harlequin Bugs, above) 

Observe Key Characteristics

Take a good look at the insect - zoom in with your camera on your phone, if needed to get a good look. Key characteristics to note include:

  • Category, or a guess about the category
  • Main color
  • Distinctive patterns (like spots or stripes, a different color head, etc.)
  • Rough description of size (tiny, large, 1 inch, etc.)
  • The plant you have seen it on and the type damage it has caused


For the this image, a good search would be something like:

  • brown caterpillar with black and white stripes eating a tomato

It's a tomato fruitworm.


Silver Spotted Skipper caterpillar


How to Search

In the Google (or Bing, or whatever) search field, enter your search terms. Sometimes it's easiest to phrase it as a question, as you would ask an expert. For example:

what is the gray beetle on my green beans in my garden

worms inside my zucchini stem

lots of tiny green bugs on my peas

orange and black bugs on my radishes

These searches are remarkably effective! You'll even get some pictures returned which you can use to compare. 

June Bug

Image Search

Another effective method is to use image search. Google and Bing offer this kind of search - you upload a picture you've taken and search for similar images. You can do it all right from your smartphone!

Take a clear, in-focus photo showing the insect you are curious about.

Pillbugs a.k.a. Roly-Polies

After You Identify It

Most of the time, the insect in question will be something common to your area. Consider finding a picture guide to local garden pests. Your local cooperative extension office and their master gardeners can help. 

Once you know what insect you have in your garden, you can research how to address it. 

Is it a beneficial insect? Count your lucky stars and let it do its job. 

If it is a beneficial insect, though, it's probably in your garden because it found the "bad" insect that it likes to eat. Look closer. 

Is it a pest? Research a little more and find out the best way to combat it.

If you're not too squeamish about the insects, you might even enjoy observing the insect for a little while. Some insects have fascinating behaviors! 


Over time you will get better at recognizing insects. In fact, you will anticipate their arrival at certain times of year on certain crops. If you are ready for them, you'll have the supplies you need, or you can take steps to protect your crop before they attack. 

One more step in the process of becoming a better gardener. 


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