Strange Insects in the Garden

I am sure you have seen some of them, strange insects in the garden, right? Sometimes the most easily explanations come from the weirdest things. And God created some very strange insects. I spend a lot of time outdoors; in the woods, along the lakes and streams, and especially in the garden. And I have seen some very peculiar things indeed. But it is best to educate and learn about these things, rather than jump to conclusions and destroy them with malice.

Strange insects can be anything from a parasitoid wasp to a dragonfly, to weird looking “crosses” of praying mantids and flies. You could see anything. A couple years ago I came across an egg suspended on a thread off a leaf. It looked like a black and white Easter egg (only the size of a small button. But it was just a pupae case for an ichneumonid wasp. Let us take a look at a few of the strange insects you may find in the Central Great Plains.


Now, I love moths. But some of them have very strange caterpillars. And some of those caterpillars have stinging hairs on them which are venomous to humans and animals/birds. Take the white-marked tussock moth, for our first example. If you came across this caterpillar on a tree in your backyard it would likely surprise you. It has fuzzy white “balls”, long black spines, and short white spines covering it. Fortunately, the spines on these strange insects are not venomous, but can cause skin irritation and rashes.

Venomous Caterpillars

While most of our caterpillars are harmless, and many are mimics of dangerous ones, there are only about 20 to 40 venomous moth caterpillars in North America. Many of those are not found in our area. But some are. For instance, the slug moths, which mostly look like flattened slimy or hairy spots on leaves, are venomous. The spiny oak slug has venomous spines on its back, and while they will not send you in need of emergency care, they can be extremely painful. It has been suggested that if you are walking in dense woods and brush, and you have a sudden pain in your bare are or elbow or neck, then you just brushed against a venomous caterpillar. Anyways, it has happened to me.

The American dagger moth is another of the strange insects. It looks cute and cuddly, so children have been known to pick it up. But it has long black spines on its white fuzzy body which break off into the skin of its toucher, and cause burning, itching, and pain.

strange insects - venomous caterpillars

Parasitized Caterpillars

If you garden much with tomatoes, you may encounter our large tomato hornworm caterpillars. They are green and difficult to spot. But if they have been parasitized, then you will recognize the white cigar-shaped protrusions coming from their bodies. These are larvae cases of the wasps which was actually eating the caterpillar from the inside out. It is certainly strange, but a good thing for tomato fanciers.

strange insects - parasitized caterpillar


If you look around the world, there are some truly strange insects, especially in beetles. Beetles that swim, beetles with hooked noses like a rhinoceros, and beetles with snouts (weevils). Here in the Central Great Plains, we lack some of the diversity of the rest of the world, but there are still a few interesting ones. Many of the tortoise beetles for instance, have a clear “shield” on the top of their bodies, a turtle-shell like carapace or covering. Some carapaces are solid and colored, but most of the ones in our area are clear. Also, the larvae stacks its poop on top of itself in an “umbrella-like” structure. This supposed to be to deter predators from snatching them up.

tortoise beetles


What in the world are owlflies? I said the same thing to myself a few years ago when I came across one of these things resting on the clothesline in my backyard. I thought it was a shiny dragonfly at first. But when you look at it, you will realize that it is its own thing, with a unique pattern on the back. Owlflies adults and larvae are both predators of other insects.


This is the one I mentioned above, like a cross between a praying mantis and fly. Or rather, like a cross between a mantis and lacewing. They are predators of other insects, just as mantises are, but they have a larval stage which is a parasitoid of running and ground hunting spiders.

strange insects - mantidflies


There are some very strange insects among the wasps. The cicada killer, to most would seem like one of those giant murder hornets, and have even been called in as such. But the cicada killer is far from it. In fact, it will only sting if threatened, and the male has no stinger. They paralyze cicadas and deposit them into holes in the ground, usually in soft earth or sand. I watched one in 2023 bury 9 cicadas in the soft soil/sand mix around our basketball pad!

One of the stranger things I have come across among the wasps species was a type of sawfly larvae. I found it while checking for fruit on my American plum bushes. It is a type of typical sawfly with no common name, but the larvae has flattened “wings” along the sides of its body, making it look like a strange caterpillar. Sawflies eat plants, usually gregariously (social or with multiple of its kind), but are often picked off by birds.



You can find all kinds of strange insects in the garden. What kinds have you found? I like to keep looking, because I never know just what I am going to come across in the garden.

Happy planting!

author of strange insects in the garden

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