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Asian Lily Beetles – A New Garden Threat
Anyone who is truly interested in nature, though perhaps naïve enough to believe in its absolute innocence, might think that the tiny, bright orange beetle that suddenly materializes in their gardens is strikingly beautiful and perfectly harmless. About the size of a rather narrow unspotted ladybird, it almost glows as it appears to bask in the sun on the leaves and emerging flower buds of hybrid Asiatic and Oriental lilies.
In fact, the appearance of innocence and beauty is totally deceiving…if not downright deceiving. Sunbathing in early spring is clearly not what you have in mind! Lilioceris lilii. The Asiatic lily beetle, also known as the lily leaf beetle, is focusing all of its attention on filling its belly and finding a mate. When these two main objectives have been met, watch out! Your beautiful lilies are about to disappear. And if you don’t have hybrid lilies but concentrate on growing fruits and vegetables, your tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants and peppers (nightshades) are in serious danger.
Where did they come from? Asiatic lily beetles first appeared in Boston a little over a dozen years ago, probably plant smugglers imported from overseas… quite possibly China. Quickly spreading through Massachusetts and points north, by 1999 they had made their way up the New England coast to Brunswick, then inland…eventually reaching the midcoast and more than a how many miles inland to the west, devastating the lilies as they went. traveled They have now taken over almost all agricultural and horticultural areas in several eastern states and three Canadian provinces, and in my opinion, and that of many other horticultural/entomological professionals, will soon exceed the populations and crop damage caused by the dreaded Japanese. Beetles (Popillia japonica).
Adult lily leaf beetles overwinter in the soil or in untreated plant debris after fall frosts. After emergence in early spring, they mate and quickly deposit 200 to 300 tiny dull orange eggs on the undersides of leaves in clusters of two to ten. Hatching occurs in five to ten days, after which the larvae feed for 16 to 24 days, rapidly growing to twice the size of their parents. It is at this time when they feed a lot. Very vulnerable to predatory insects during this “soft” feeding stage, the larvae cover themselves with their own sticky, slime-like droppings (excrement) as a highly effective defense against attack. Most gardeners describe them as dirty little slugs. If you scrape the feces, you will see a soft, dull red beetle whose wings have not yet hardened.
Around this point, the larvae crawl or drop to the ground where they pupate in secreted cocoons. In less than 25 days, a fully mature adult emerges to begin the process all over again. There can be up to three such generations in a single season. To make matters worse, females that have laid their eggs for the current season may survive a second winter and lay another large clutch of eggs the following year. Let me do the math for you: one mature female beetle x 200 x 200 x 200 = 8,000,000 at least. And that’s in our short New England growing season. Alfred Hitchcock would have had a field day with these numbers!
What else will they attack? An all-time dietary favorite is the fritillary (fritillaria sp.), but are most commonly seen on Asiatic, Oriental, and “tiger” lilies (Lilium sp.), lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis), Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum multiflorum), certain vegetables, and occasionally other common garden perennials when their favorites are not present or have already been consumed.
How are they controlled? Best of all is a daily scan of your garden, hand picking or throwing adults into a jar of soapy water or spraying with one of the products described below. There are two natural “pesticides” effective in controlling Asiatic lily beetles:
1. NEEM, a biochemical pest control extracted from the tropical Neem tree. It affects the insect while it is in its larval phase by interrupting the moult, and it can also serve to repel the adults.
2. PYRETHRINa product extracted from common painted daisies (pyrethrum sp.), can be sprayed on plants to control both adult and larval stages. I find pyrethrin to be the best option.
I’ve noticed that too RESMETRINE – a synthetic form of pyrethrin found in garden spray formulations – destroys the larval form.
All of these insecticides are commonly stocked in large retail garden centers and less reliably in “big box” stores. As always, read and observe all labeling information. Wear protective gloves when handling or applying, and wash thoroughly when the work is done. Even though they are considered “natural”, there is no point in risking your health or that of your loved ones.
One final thought: The real key to controlling the population numbers of this highly destructive new villain in your garden, in the words of Alistair “Mad-Eye” Moody of Harry Potter fame: CONSTANT SURVEILLANCE! We must be ruthless and unyielding in our pursuit and destruction of all Asian beetles we encounter! The future of hybrid and tiger lilies in our gardens depends on this.
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