Pests on the prowl in Austin area

Published 11:10 am Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Japanese beetle chews through a plant in an Austin yard. -- Susan Downey/

They show up in hordes nearly every summer, but nobody wants to see them.

They’re Japanese beetles, and for nearly five years they’ve been a growing problem in parts of Austin. Though they’ve particularly been an issue in parts of southwest Austin, they’re causing problems on the north side of town, too.

For five years, Gregg McConnell, a groundskeeper at the Oakwood Cemetery, has been watching the beetles ruin the foliage.

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“There’s so many flowers out here, there’s really nothing we could do,” he said.

McConnell said the beetles have even damaged some of the trees at the cemetery.

“We’ve had some people coming that have had certain shrubs within their landscape that have been completely defoliated,” added Aimee Whiteaker, manager of Dolan’s Landscape Center in Mapleview.

There’s something McConnell and others can do, however. People are using several methods to eradicate the pesky critters.

Beetle traps are effective at capturing adult beetles in trees, as the beetles land on the slippery plastic and fall into a bag from which they cannot escape. Whiteaker said the traps come with enough refill bags to last the average homeowner for one year. Whiteaker sold out of traps recently, but she said there are other effective methods, as well.

Along with a chemical that can be sprayed on trees to kill adult beetles, Whiteaker recommends fungus spores that will live underneath the soil when applied to grass. The spores kill beetle eggs and grubs before the insects ever leave the ground, and more spores grow with more beetles. Whiteaker said one application can last for as many as 23 years. Though in the city, it may be better for communities to work together. Treating one yard won’t be as effective as treating a whole block, Whiteaker said.

Whiteaker said products also exist for eradicating earwigs. With hot, humid weather, more earwigs have been present, but organic, pet-friendly chemicals can be applied to the base of homes as barriers. Household, non-toxic chemicals are available as well for those who have earwigs inside their homes. Whiteaker said earwigs prefer damp conditions and often get into hampers, bathrooms and other wet areas of homes. Though the insects don’t wreak havoc on plants or humans, they can be unsightly to some people. Eliminating wet, dark places where earwigs can hide is a good preventive measure.

What is the Japanese beetle?

A highly destructive plant pest that feeds on grass roots, it damages lawns, golf courses and pastures. It was first found in the U.S. in 1916 New Jersey, and has since spread through most of the land east of the Mississippi.

On the lookout

Adult Japanese beetle is a little less than 1/2 inch long and has a shiny, metallic-green body with bronze-colored outer wings. The beetle has five small tufts of white hair along each side and two tufts of white hair in the back of its body, under the edges of its wings.
Adults can be seen in late spring or early summer aboveground. Larvae hatch by midsummer and feed on grass roots. They grow to about an inch long and lie in a curled position. The grubs burrow 4 to 8 inches into the soil in late fall and remain inactive all

— Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture