Are Grubs and Cutworms the Same Thing?

Key Takeaways:

  • Grubs and cutworms are completely different insects and not the same at all.
  • Grubs are the larvae of beetles, whereas cutworms are the larvae of certain moths.
  • Grubs mostly attack lawns and turfgrass, but cutworms target vegetable gardens and seedlings.
  • Grubs have around 1-3 pairs of legs, but cutworms have 5-6 pairs of true legs and several false legs.
  • Knowing how to identify grubs vs cutworms is key for effective pest control in lawns and gardens.


As a gardener or homeowner, you may have encountered grubs or cutworms wreaking havoc in your lawn or vegetable garden. But are these pests one and the same? Or are grubs and cutworms completely different insects?

This comprehensive guide will analyze the key differences between grubs and cutworms. We'll evaluate their biological classification, physical appearance, feeding habits, and behavior to clearly distinguish these two lawn and garden pests. Understanding what separates grubs and cutworms is essential for effective control and prevention.

After reading this in-depth article, you'll be able to confidently identify grubs and cutworms and implement targeted solutions to get rid of the specific pest damaging your turf or crops. Keep reading to become an expert on recognizing and managing grubs vs cutworms!

What Are Grubs?

Grubs are the larval form of various beetles, including species like the Japanese beetle, June beetle, European chafer, and oriental beetle. The adult beetles lay eggs in the soil, which hatch into creamy white grubs with brown heads and six legs. Grubs feed on the roots of grass, damaging lawn turf.

Some key facts about grubs:

  • Taxonomic classification: Insecta, Coleoptera (beetles)
  • Larvae of scarab beetles like Japanese, June, and European chafers
  • Creamy white in color with brown head capsule
  • C-shaped body with 3 pairs of legs
  • Feeds on roots of grasses, especially turfgrass
  • Most active in summer and early fall
  • Overwinter deep in soil as grubs

What Are Cutworms?

Cutworms are the larvae of various night-flying moths in the Noctuidae family. Some common species are the variegated, black, and claybacked cutworms. The adult moths lay eggs on low-growing plants, which hatch into plump, smooth caterpillars called cutworms. These pests hide in soil and chew through stems and seedlings overnight.

Key characteristics of cutworms:

  • Taxonomic classification: Insecta, Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies)
  • Larvae of Noctuid moths like the variegated, black, or claybacked cutworm
  • Plump, smooth caterpillars in gray, brown, black or mottled colors
  • 3 pairs of thoracic legs, 5 pairs of fleshy abdominal prolegs
  • Feed at night on stems, leaves, roots of vegetables and seedlings
  • Overwinter as larvae buried in soil
  • Become active in spring, pupating in soil in summer

Are Grubs and Cutworms the Same Insect?

No, grubs and cutworms are completely different insects and not the same at all. This is clear when you compare their biological classification, physical appearance, feeding behavior, and lifecycles.

Grubs are the larvae of beetles in the Coleoptera order, usually scarab beetles. Cutworms are the larvae of Noctuid moths in the Lepidoptera order. They belong to totally separate insect families.

Grubs have a creamy white C-shaped body with only 3 pairs of legs and brown head. Cutworms are smooth caterpillars with 5-6 pairs of true legs, several false abdominal legs, and distinct coloring.

While grubs feast on grass roots, cutworms chew through stems of seedlings. Their dietary preferences and foraging habits are very different.

Finally, grubs and cutworms have varying lifecycles tied to their adult beetle and moth stages which are completely unrelated. The pests overwinter as larvae but have contrasting emergence and activity patterns.

So in taxonomy, appearance, behavior, and biology, grubs and cutworms are distinctly different insects. Proper identification is crucial for successful management in lawns and gardens.

How to Identify Grubs

Here are some tips to identify grubs if you suspect damage in your lawn:

What do grubs look like?

  • Creamy white, C-shaped larvae with tan to brown head
  • 3 pairs of legs on the thorax
  • No arms or legs on the abdomen
  • Grows up to 1-1.5 inches long

Check for signs of grub damage:

  • Irregular brown patches in lawn
  • Grass pulls up easily from soil
  • Extensive damage to grass roots
  • Presence of moles or skunks digging in the lawn

Confirm grubs through baiting:

  • Mix equal parts water and molasses in a can, soak paper towel
  • Place soaked towels on problem areas overnight
  • Check next day – grubs will be clustered on towels if present

Time inspections when grubs are active:

  • Early summer through early fall
  • Avoid spring or peak winter when dormant

Following these tips will allow you to successfully detect grubs damaging your turf. Targeted treatments can then be applied to get rid of beetle larvae.

How to Identify Cutworms

Use these guidelines to look for cutworms in vegetable gardens and confirm they are the cause of any plant damage:

What does a cutworm look like?

  • Plump, smooth caterpillar up to 2 inches long
  • Pale gray, brown, black or mottled body color
  • 5 pairs of legs on thorax, several fleshy false legs on abdomen

Inspect plants for cutworm activity:

  • Stems of seedlings chewed through and cut off at soil level
  • Young plants toppled over or completely missing
  • Leaves riddled with holes but damage only at night

Search for caterpillars near damaged plants:

  • Dig around roots or disturbed soil during day
  • Inspect again at night with flashlight when active
  • Look under boards, grass clumps, or mulch

Monitor in spring when cutworms are lively:

  • Early spring as temps warm up
  • May through June is peak activity period
  • Populations decline by midsummer

These identification tips will help isolate cutworm caterpillars as the culprits behind any mysterious plant damage. Targeted treatment of infested vegetable beds can then knock down cutworms.

How Are Grubs and Cutworms Different?

While grubs and cutworms are both soil-dwelling pests, they have many clear differences:


  • Grubs: Creamy white, C-shaped, 3 pairs legs on thorax
  • Cutworms: Smooth caterpillars, multiple colors, 3+ pairs legs on thorax and abdomen


  • Grubs: Beetle larvae, Coleoptera order
  • Cutworms: Moth larvae, Lepidoptera order

Feeding Habits

  • Grubs: Eat roots of grass and turf
  • Cutworms: Chew leaves, stems, roots of vegetable plants

Active Period

  • Grubs: Mainly summer through fall
  • Cutworms: Spring through early summer

Life Stages

  • Grubs: Overwinter as larvae, pupate as beetles in spring
  • Cutworms: Overwinter as larvae, pupate as moths in early summer

So while they both inhabit soil as juveniles, grubs and cutworms differ significantly in their biology and behavior as beetle and moth larvae respectively. Proper identification of each pest is key for successful management.

Common Questions about Grubs vs Cutworms (with Direct Definite Answers)

Are grubs and cutworms the same species of insect?

No, grubs and cutworms are not the same species at all. Grubs are the larvae of beetles, whereas cutworms are caterpillars of moths. They belong to completely different insect classifications.

Do grubs turn into cutworms?

No, grubs cannot turn into cutworms or vice versa. Grubs mature into beetles, while cutworms become moths. The larval and adult forms are specific to each insect family.

Do grubs and cutworms damage the same plants?

No, grubs and cutworms attack different types of plants. Grubs primarily feed on grass roots and damage lawns. Cutworms chew leaves, stems, and roots of vegetables and seedlings.

Should I use the same treatment for grubs and cutworms?

No, you need different control methods for grubs vs cutworms. Grub treatments like nematodes target larvae in turfgrass. Cutworm baits and collars protect vegetable plants and seedlings.

How can I tell grubs and cutworms apart?

Check the legs – grubs have 3 pairs of legs while cutworm caterpillars have at least 5 pairs. Also see if there is plant damage in the lawn or garden beds to pinpoint the pest.

Do grubs and cutworms have the same life cycle?

No, grubs and cutworms have different life cycles. Grubs overwinter as larvae and pupate as beetles in spring. Cutworms overwinter as larvae and become moths in early summer.


When evaluating common garden pests, it is clear that grubs and cutworms are completely distinct insects, not the same species. From their taxonomic classification to physical attributes, feeding habits, seasonal patterns and life cycles, grubs and cutworms have marked differences.

Understanding these variations is key for proper identification of grubs vs cutworms when plant damage appears in your lawn or vegetable garden. Confidently diagnosing the specific pest will allow you to implement targeted solutions to eliminate grubs in turf or cutworms in garden beds.

Now that you are equipped with expert knowledge on recognizing and managing grubs and cutworms, you can troubleshoot lawn and garden pest problems like a pro!


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