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Lily Beetles - the attack has started!

  • Lily Beetles - the attack has started!
  • Lily Beetles - the attack has started!
  • Lily Beetles - the attack has started!

Just two days ago I found my first Lily Beetle of the season.... has anyone else found them yet? If not, be warned, it's time to start looking out for these nasty little beasties.

What's a Lily Beetle? I hear you say. Well, if you don't know what they are then you are either very lucky, in that you have never had them, or you don't grow lilies. Or, possibly, you have given up growing Lilies, as they never seem to do well for you?

Well, if you don't know what Lily Beetles are, they are quite large, shiny bright scarlet, beetles, which simply drool over our beautiful Lilies, and to a lesser extent our Fritillaries. I've had Clients in the past come running up to me, wailing about ladybirds eating their Lilies: it's an easy mistake to make, but Ladybirds are hemispherical, like half a pea, whereas Lily Beetles are longer and flatter: also, Ladybirds have spots, whereas Lily Beetles are plain red, no spots.

They eat the leaves, often leaving squared-off holes in the foliage, and then they lay their bright orange eggs on the underside of the leaves. The eggs hatch into larvae, which then cover themselves in their own excrement (“charming!”) for disguise. These larvae then, under cover of the black poo, eat what is left of the leaves.

This means that the Lilies look like nothing on earth - tattered, ragged foliage with clumps of black icky stuff on them - and although they might still flower this year, the lack of foliage will cause the bulbs to be seriously distressed, to the point where they may well not flower at all the following year.

So, what can we do about it? Answer, get out there now, and start looking for them. They are ridiculously easy to spot, being bright scarlet, but they have a nasty little trick: when disturbed, they fall to the ground and lie motionless on their backs, so you can't see them. This means you need two hands - cup one underneath, then gently nudge the beetle off the leaf into your hand. Or, crease a sheet of stiff paper lengthwise, and hold it under the plant. Either way, once you have them, crush them!

As with many things in the garden, prevention is better than cure, so be vigilant now, early in the season, and catch them as they arrive. By killing every adult that you see, you can prevent them from laying eggs, thus saving your Lilies - and mine! - from an untimely demise!

Comments (8)

  1. Grower

    Winifred Field

    Found one some weeks ago, the fritillaries suffered. Haven,t spotted any on the lilies yet. They seem to get earlier every year.

  2. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    It's taken me years, but I am finally tough enough to crush them with my bare hands - for so long, I would try to do it with gloves on, and drop them irretrievably (and irritably!) onto the soil. Now my thumb-nail is permanently stained red!

  3. Grower

    Terry Court

    Found three in my lilies only yesterday

  4. Grower

    Ray Mitchell

    I dislike using insecticides and wondered if using something like a cabbage collar type device would be any good. I was going to make some, as an experiment, out of roofing felt off cuts, but forgot again this year. At least you could see the beetles when they drop down to squish 'em!!

  5. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    Hi Ray,

    Sadly, lily beetles fly in, so no sort of collar will control them, although I like the idea of being able to find the little wretches when the do the fall-on-the-back trick.

    I find that constant vigilance and a willingness to have a red-stained thumbnail does the trick, organically!

  6. Grower

    Helene U Taylor

    I have more than 200 lilies and I patrol them with a white ice cream lid in my hand. If I find a lily beetle I carefully place the lid under the leaf where the beetle is and then gently knock the stalk so the beetle can drop onto the white lid and I – with my failing eye sight can see it and crush it. I am still too squeamish to do it with my fingers so I crush it with the tip of my trowel. But I have been vigilant with picking them off for years and those few I find are probably flown in from neighbours. I don’t find many red lily beetles anymore and last year I probably killed less than 10 and had no lilies damaged.

    By the way, did you know the lily beetles scream? When you get near them they sense danger and scream to warn other lily beetles nearby. If you haven’t heard it before, listen carefully next time you pick one and kill it. Don’t let it stop you from killing them, it is sadly the only way of getting rid of red lily beetles.

  7. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    Hi Helene,

    No, I have never heard them squeak - I thought you were pulling my leg but a little internet research suggests it might actually be true! It makes no difference, I will still squish the little beasts!

  8. Grower

    Helene U Taylor

    I have actually tried to record the squeaking sound with my camera, but the microphone isn't good enough to pick up the sound. They will squeak/scream...whatever you choose to call it, even if you don't touch them. It is enough to lean over a lily beetle so you cast a shadow on it - that will make it think you are a predator and it might start squeaking! It is the only insect with this feature as far as I know. I find them strangely fascinating despite all the work I have to keep them off all my 200 plus lilies. I still kill every one I find so don't think I am going soft on them😊

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