How to Identify Insect Cocoons and Habitats

These fascinating critter creations are examples of nature at work in the garden.

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Praying Mantis Egg Sack

This praying mantis egg sack is two good signs in one. First, these helpful predators have been active in your yard already. Also, you have a great chance of getting their help again in the coming season when the babies emerge.

Black Swallowtail Butterfly

Butterflies may help a little with pollination, but the greatest benefit of their presence is the color and movement they bring to the garden. See its recently vacated chrysalis to the right?

A Chrysalis Incubating a Butterfly-to-Be

The difference between a chrysalis and a cocoon? Butterflies emerge from a chrysalis, which is made of hardened protein. Many moths come out of cocoons, which are spun from silk.

Fall Webworms

Two commmon types of caterpillars make silk "tents" in trees and/or shrubs. The eastern tent caterpillar camps out in the crotches of trees and shrubs in spring. Fall webworms pitch their tents over branch tips or small clusters of branches in fall.

Spider Web

Garden spiders are notorious for their broad webs that are especially ornate when morning dew has condensed on the strands. These webs are a welcome site, as a sign that another critter is on the gardener's team. Garden spiders gobble up thousands of potentially harmful insects in their lifetime including flies, mosquitos and aphids.

Spider Mites

This web is not a welcome site. Spider mites thrive on the juices of your precious garden plants. Not all bug killers are created equal. If you detect a spider mite infestation, use a miticide that specifically targets these pests.

Squash Vine Borers

Squash vine borers chew their way through the leaves and stems of summer and winter squash. Look for wilted leaves with mushy stems as the major indicators. Weekly dusting with diatomaceous earth will help deter borers. If squash vine borers are already present, remove and destroy severely damaged plants.

Tomato Hornworm

Finding holes in leaves and missing leaves? You likely have a tomato hornworm at work. These large green worms can gobble a mature tomato plant almost overnight. The worms hide under leaves during the daytime. Get rid of them by visiting your tomato patch at night, when they come out to feed. Knock worms into a container of soapy water. If you see a worm with white tic tac-looking things sticking out of it, leave it alone. It’s been attacked by a parasitic wasp, and it’s on a death march. You want those white eggs to hatch and release more wasps into your tomato patch.

Parasitic Wasp Cocoons on Hornworm

When pests arrive, like this hornworm, their predators are soon to follow. The braconid wasp lays its eggs inside the body of the hornworm. When the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on its muscle tissue. About a week later, they pierce its skin to spin their cocoons externally.

Bald-Face Hornet Nest

A hornet's nest is an amazing creation, although not always welcome in the garden. We found this one in an out of the way location. Leaving these nests alone may prove beneficial as the inhabitants feed on yellow jackets and other unwanted insects.


Honeybees would be a welcome discovery for many of us. Swarm season begins in spring when strong hives have a natural tendency to divide their efforts. This can result in feral hives located in all sorts of unexpected cavities from hollow trees to hollow walls.

Watch Out for Fire Ant Mounds

Aggressive, stinging fire ants can quickly take over a landscape. Treat new mounds with granular or liquid insecticides soon while they are still small. 

Holes in Tomatoes

Small holes in tomatoes are usually caused by slugs. The problem is, once slugs open a hole, the tomato weeps juice, and soon other critters join the party, like pill bugs, fruit flies and wasps. The wound in the fruit also invites early decay and mold. Slugs attack low-hanging fruit first, but they also slime their way up tomato vines and supports. Research slug treatments and adopt several strategies to deal with them. When tomato season is done, before frost, continue to use slug treatments to kill adult slugs before they lay eggs.

Leaf Roller on Canna

It is not often that a bug is named after the damage it does. Leaf roller does just as its name specifies and is quite common on broadleaved plants like canna, making them look like straws or cigars. Leaf rollers may be controlled with Bt, a caterpillar-killing organic pesticide, or by applying a systemic insecticide as a foliar spray. Because leaf rollers produce several generations during the growing season, plan for retreatment as needed.

Baby Owl

Bugs offer opportunities for other creatures as well. Woodpeckers may excavate caverns as they hunt for insects that feed on trees. Later other animals use the excavated holes for their own purposes. Even the problem bugs for plant lovers are beneficial to someone.

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