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  • Calvin Molan

BillBugs: What you Need to Know to Protect Your Home Lawn

Featured Insect: Billbug (sphenophorus parvulus)

Key Characteristics: Billbug adults appear to be around 7-8 mm long typically, sometimes gray to black in color, and they are easily identifiable by the long snout located at the front of their head. Throughout their body there are alternating and evenly spaced rows of punctures of similar size, which at times almost gives the insect a striped appearance. The larva when located, usually appear to be a translucent color with a chestnut colored head.

Major Issue: The billbug or Sphenophorus parvulus has been the arch nemesis to homeowners, grounds managers, golf course superintendents and many others across the country that strive to keep a green and healthy lawn. Billbug damage can be found everywhere within the many realms of turfgrass and diagnosing this billbug damage correctly (when present) as well as the correct treatment will play a crucial role in determining the future health of your turfgrass.These sneaky insects cause extensive damage quickly and are undetectable until damage starts to show. As soon as the damage arrives the timer begins simultaneously, and without the proper eye it can be very hard to pinpoint and then before too long the damage can become irreversible.

How It Happens: Adults are usually found in the winter months hiding within the turfgrass thatch or any cracks in the soil. They can also be found in locations nearby surrounding your lawn; such as driveways, sidewalks, building crevices..etc. Although the adults don't do too much extensive damage themselves, they will chew minor holes in the grass stems in which then the females lay their eggs. Once the eggs become larvae then the damage can really begin. At first larvae burrow down inside the stems until they deplete all resources from within. Then as the larva begins to get bigger and bigger they begin to feed heavily on the plant's crown, causing major harm to the turfgrass and sometimes even death to your lawn.

Billbugs are the most commonly misdiagnosed insect related turfgrass disorder in North

America. From the East Coast to the Pacific Northwest, and all the way to Central America, this damage can disguise itself in numerous ways...such as drought stress or summer dormancy, whited grubs, compacted soil, nematode damage, as well as spring dead spot and dollar spot disease, because of this it is very easy for billbugs to become a perennial problem on your property.Therefore it is critical to identify this pest and damage so you can begin to treat it properly earlier on. Proper knowledge, understanding, monitoring and execution are all needed to successfully defend your lawn from these pests.

Control: Effective billbug treatment often calls for a multi-pronged approach. Target adults in early spring before they lay their eggs, and treat newly hatched larvae before they can damage lawns extensively. Late-season treatments target larvae and adults, which may overwinter in thatch and leaf debris. You can find treatments that may be effective in several forms, but if things get out of hand it is usually best to call in a professional. Below is an example of a decent approach to start being proactive about these lawn invaders as a home owner.

(Always read product labels and follow the instructions carefully.)

- Granular Insect Killer: kill and control adult billbugs and their larvae above and below the soil line. Apply the granules with a regular lawn spreader, and then water immediately to release the active ingredients into the soil.

- Insect Killer Concentrate: works with a pump-style sprayer for targeted spot treatments or extensive coverage of larger lawn areas where you expect billbug problems to occur.

- Ready to Spray Insect Killer: simplifies thorough coverage of lawns and home perimeters. Attach it to a regular garden hose, and it mixes automatically as you spray.

Pro Tip: Poor lawn maintenance contributes to billbug problems from year to year. Follow good mowing practices and dethatch regularly to help keep billbugs at a minimum.

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