Flower gardens, crops attacked by Japanese beetles early this year

Sunday, June 24, 2012

SIKESTON, Mo. -- Japanese beetles arrived in the area about two weeks early this year, but they may not cause the damage growers are used to seeing each summer.

"There are some specialists who are saying, as dry as we are, there is a good chance the numbers will be down," said Donna Aufdenberg, horticulture specialist for the Southeast Region of the University of Missouri Extension.

Japanese beetles are visible in the area, but so far, experts haven't seen the numbers of beetles they've seen in the past, Aufdenberg said.

"Since we are so dry, even the eggs they lay may not survive," Aufdenberg said. "In a way, this dry period may have a positive effect and decrease the Japanese beetles."

The metallic-green beetles have bronze-colored wing covers. Just beneath the wing covers are six tufts of white hair along each side of their abdomen.

"They'll eat the petals of the flowers as well as the leaves," Aufdenberg said.

Japanese beetles can smell food up to four miles away, Aufdenberg said. Their favorite plants to feed on tend to be roses, crape myrtles and anything with fruit -- apples, peaches, blackberries, grapes, she said.

"When they feed, they send off a hormone ... to the other beetles and say: ‘Come eat. I've found something good,'" Aufdenberg said.

The beetles start out as grubs under the ground and come out as beetles. They mate and go back into the ground to lay their eggs, and then they die.

"I've seen a few, but they haven't been a major issue for me," said Peggy Grimes of Sikeston, who is a master gardener.

Grimes said she tries to be a natural gardener.

"What I do is pick them off when I see them," Grimes said of the beetles. "I handle them in a way that is not harmful to the environment."

Aufdenberg has also noticed several beetles in swimming pools this year.

"I was blown away at how many Japanese beetles are in the pool already this year. Because it's so dry, everything is in the water," Aufdenberg said, adding the best way to get them out is to skim the pools.

In addition to lawns and gardens, the green pests like to feed on field crops, especially corn and soybeans.

Sam Atwell, agronomy specialist for Southeast Region of the University Missouri Extension and program director for New Madrid County, said high levels of Japanese beetles were reported in other counties north and west of the Sikeston area.

"We're running normal, which is on the low side," Atwell said about local beetle counts in crops. "They're out here everywhere -- in the cornfields particularly -- but not at a threshold level for spraying."

Atwell said right now is the critical time for growers to scout for the beetles.

"When the silk comes out of the corn, the beetles are attracted to them, particularly when they're white and fresh," Atwell said, adding too many beetles can destroy a crop.

The Japanese beetles are rarely a serious problem in agriculture, Atwell said.

"Oftentimes putting on a fungicide -- even a preventative one -- can help to knock those beetles out," Atwell said.

Aufdenberg said to get rid of the beetles at homes, some people will use a bucket of warm, sudsy water and knock the beetles into that to get rid of them.

Others will use the chemical carbaryl, known by the trade name Sevin, she said.

"That does a pretty good job. I like the liquid version better than the powder; however, with the liquid, the beetles have to feed on it more than a couple of days," Aufdenberg said.

The beetles' arrival has only just begun.

"They're here for about six weeks -- usually from the first part of July and into August," Aufdenberg said. "You have to put up with them for six to eight weeks."

Pertinent address:

Sikeston, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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