LANSING, Mich. (Michigan News Source)The lily leaf beetle, with its bright red shell, is wreaking havoc on Michigan’s gardens. 

What is the lily leaf beetle?

This European pest, also known as the scarlet lily beetle, has been devouring lilies since it was first spotted in the state in 2016.

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These beetles are not picky eaters. They primarily target tiger lilies, Easter lilies, Asiatic and Oriental lilies, and fritillaries. They also occasionally feed on lily of the valley, Solomon’s seal, bittersweet, potatoes, hollyhocks, and various hostas. In other words, if it’s leafy and green, it’s on the menu.

According to Marianna Szucs, an assistant professor in the MSU Department of Entomology, these beetles emerged in large numbers in 2021 and 2022, spreading their destruction throughout Michigan. Szucs even told MLive that her own garden was devoured last year and described the lily leaf beetle as a “good disperser,” meaning it can move and expand quickly over a large area.

How do lily leaf beetles impact local ecosystems?

The life cycle of the lily leaf beetle is as dramatic as its color. These beetles overwinter as adults in the soil and emerge in early spring, ready to lay hundreds of eggs on the underside of lily leaves. The larvae, which resemble tiny orange slugs, hatch and cover themselves in their own frass (a fancy word for excrement) to fend off predators. 

Battling these crimson pests requires a strategic approach. The beetles’ different life stages mean they are constantly hatching and growing throughout the season. This is not a one-and-done situation; it’s an ongoing battle.

What’s recommended to get rid of lily leaf beetles?

Michigan State University recommends regular insecticide applications. Permethrin, cyhalothrin, deltamethrin, pyrethrin, and spinosad are effective allies in this fight. Neem oil and insecticidal soaps can also help with young larvae. 

Hand-picking beetles and dropping them into a bucket of soapy water can also be effective for smaller infestations. While this method is more labor-intensive, it is also pesticide-free.

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In the fight against the lily leaf beetle, Szucs reassured MLive that scientists at MSU are not standing idly by. They are working on a biological control program similar to successful efforts on the East Coast, which involves releasing parasitoid wasps that target beetle larvae. According to MSU’s “Lily leaf beetles continue to spread in Michigan,” gardeners are encouraged to report sightings of the beetle and the damage they cause to the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network. These reports can help identify the best locations for wasp releases.