Be alarmed if you notice small, red beetles eating your lily plants. The lily leaf beetle (Lilioceris lilii) an introduced species to the United States, feeds on a variety of plant species. It is especially fond of true lilies, which it uses to reproduce. The beetle can destroy a lily plant in a short period with both adults and larvae consuming the leaves, frequently leaving only the bare stems behind.
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Indigenous to most of Europe, the lily leaf beetle is a relatively new species in United States and was probably introduced in the 1990s somewhere around Cambridge, Massachusetts. As of 2007, the beetle infested much of New England and was expected to continue to spread, according to the University of Massachusetts.
The adult leaf lily beetle is bright red in colour with black legs, head and long, black, segmented antennae. The thorax is pinched on the sides. The abdomen is squarish where it meets the thorax, and then elongates to a curved tail end. The hard, wing coverings have many tiny indentations and slightly lighter longitudinal lines. The larvae are plump with black heads and bodies that range in colour from orange to brown or green and have a somewhat sluglike appearance. The larvae also have the habit of piling their faeces on their backs, giving them a dirty appearance.
Adult lily leaf beetles become active in early spring, when lily plants begin emerging, and they start feeding immediately. During this time, the beetles eat voraciously and seek mates. Female leaf lily beetles lay irregularly shaped eggs on lily plants in late spring, which hatch in four to eight days. During the two to three weeks after they hatch, the larvae feed, and then drop to the ground and pupate for two to three more weeks until they emerge as adults and begin the life cycle again.
For a small infestation, handpick adults, larvae and eggs from plants. Use pesticide for more significant infestations. When the eggs first hatch, an application of a botanical insecticide, such as Neem, kills young larvae. Adults are resistant and may require stronger treatment, such as the chemical pesticide imidacloprid, or spinosad, a microbial insecticide. The University of Rhode Island is currently testing other methods of controlling this devastating insect. Among the potential solutions is the release of other insects that parasitise the larvae of leaf lily beetles.
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