The Q&A Archives: Japanese Beetles

Question: Do you sell a product for milky spore disease. What are the stages of life for the beetle, length of time in each stage. Will this seasons crop of the be dead after the winter or are they in the soil.

Answer: Both as adults and as grubs (the larval stage), Japanese beetles are destructive plant pests. Adults feed on the foliage and fruits of several hundred species of fruit trees, ornamental trees, shrubs, vines, and field and vegetable crops. Adults leave behind skeletonized leaves and large, irregular holes in leaves. The grubs develop in the soil, feeding on the roots of various plants and grasses and often destroying turf in lawns, parks, golf courses, and pastures.

The adult Japanese beetle is a little less than 1/2 inch long and has a shiny, metallic-green body and bronze-colored outer wings. The beetle has six small tufts of white hair along the sides and back of its body under the edges of its wings. The males usually are slightly smaller than the females. You are most likely to see the adults in late spring or early summer.

During the feeding period, females intermittently leave plants, burrow about 3 inches into the ground--usually into turf--and lay a few eggs. This cycle is repeated until the female lays 40 to 60 eggs.

By midsummer, the eggs hatch, and the young grubs begin to feed. Each grub is about an inch long when fully grown and lies in a curled position. In late autumn, the grubs burrow 4 to 8 inches into the soil and remain inactive all winter. This insect spends about 10 months of the year in the ground in the larval stage.

In early spring, the grubs return to the turf and continue to feed on roots until late spring, when they change into pupae. In about 2 weeks, the pupae become adult beetles and emerge from the ground. This life cycle takes a year.

To control the Japanese beetle, several potential tactics are available. The choice of method will reflect the management objectives and control philosophy of the homeowner.

The following chemicals are effective for use in the control of the Japanese beetle adult and its grubs:

Chemicals for Adults:

Chemicals for Larvae:
Imidacloprid (Merit(TM) Insecticide for turf; Marathon(TM) for nursery use)

These lists do not include all materials registered for Japanese beetle control. For further details regarding chemical controls, consult your local Cooperative Extension Service. Before using any of these chemicals, check the label for particular formulations registered for Japanese beetles, read the entire label, and carefully follow application instructions regarding dosage and rate.

There are also biological controls. Homeowners who choose biological methods to control Japanese beetle populations can successfully use parasites, nematodes, fungi, or other biologically based approaches. Some of these agents are commercially available to homeowners; others are not. While they take a little longer to produce the same results as insecticides, biological control agents last longer in the environment. More importantly, they do not adversely affect nontarget or potentially beneficial organisms.

Nematodes--Insect-eating nematodes--microscopic parasitic roundworms--actively seek out grubs in the soil. These nematodes have a mutualistic symbiotic relationship with a single species of bacteria. Upon penetrating a grub, the nematode inoculates the grub with the bacteria. The bacteria reproduce quickly, feeding on the grub tissue. The nematode then feeds on this bacteria and progresses through its own life cycle, reproducing and ultimately killing the grub.

The two nematodes that are most effective against Japanese beetle grubs are Steinernema glaseri and Heterorhabditis bacteriophora. The latter is commercially available.

When using nematodes, remember they are alive and have a fairly high oxygen requirement. They are typically sold on a carrier, which they can survive on for a month or 2 under cool conditions. They can be applied with any standard insecticide applicator. Once mixed with water, nematodes must be applied fairly quickly. Follow accompanying directions carefully for best results.

Nematodes may be purchased in lawn and garden shops or through biological mail-order catalogs.

Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)--Bt is a naturally occurring soil bacterium typically used as a microbial insecticide. The Bt strain registered for the Japanese beetle is for use on the grub stage only. Bt is a stomach poison and must be ingested to be effective. Apply it to the soil as you would insecticides. Effectiveness is similar to that of insecticides.

Milky Spore--Milky spore is the common name for spores of the bacterium Bacillus popillae. This bacterium was first registered for use on turf in suppression of the Japanese beetle grub in the United States in 1948.

Upon ingestion, these spores germinate in the grub's gut, infect the gut cells, and enter the blood, where they multiply. The buildup of the spores in the blood causes the grub to take on a characteristic milky appearance.

Milky spore disease builds up in turf slowly (over 2-4 years) as grubs ingest the spores, become infected, and die, each releasing 1-2 billion spores back into the soil. Milky spore disease can suppress the development of large beetle populations. But it works best when applied in community-wide treatment programs. Check with your extension agent regarding the availability of milky spore material.

June and July are prime times to control both adults and grubs.

Hope this provides all the information you're seeking on Japanese Beetles. I don't know whether your tree will come back next year after this year's attack. It depends upon how healthy it was going into the attack and whether or not it has reserves to leaf out again next year.

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