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Search & Destroy: Scarlet Lily Beetles

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Search & Destroy: Scarlet Lily Beetles

May 31, 2023

I can tell when spring is in full force in many different ways. The longer days! The warmer weather! The beautiful flowers! The birdsong! The social media posts asking what is this bright red bug eating my lilies?

It’s not the height of spring in my area until my friends start posting photos of bright red beetles and asking how to stop them. Here’s how I answer their questions.

What are scarlet lily beetles?

As their name suggests, scarlet lily beetles love to dine on the leaves of lilies. Photograph by Hobbs_Luton via Flickr.
Above: As their name suggests, scarlet lily beetles love to dine on the leaves of lilies. Photograph by Hobbs_Luton via Flickr.

Scarlet lily beetles are small half-inch-long beetles that are bright red, scarlet to be exact, on top and black on the bottom. They came from Europe and Asia at some point in the last century and have been slowly munching their way through the US and Canada. They have a voracious appetite for plants in the lily family. Only true lilies in the Liliaceae family, such as asiatic lilies and fritillaria, are affected, but not daylilies which are in a different plant family. They may also take a bite out of a hollyhock or a hosta but will generally leave them alone.

Why are they a problem?

Photograph by Mikael F. via Flickr.
Above: Photograph by Mikael F. via Flickr.

Unlike most other plants, lilies grow only one set of leaves a year, and once they are gone, they are gone for the year. The scarlet lily beetle can strip the leaves off a lily and kill the plant in just a few days.

Scarlet lily beetles are sneaky. While they are very easy to spot, being bright red, they are hard to remove. With any disturbance, their defensive response is to very quickly fall off the leaf and land on their back on the ground. But now you’re no longer looking for a bright red bug; you’re looking for a black one, which is a decidedly harder task as they now blend in with the soil, mulch, or leaf litter.

They’re also yucky. The larvae of scarlet lily beetles carry their poop on their backs to make them less appealing to birds. And the humans trying to pick them off the leaves.

How do you control them?

To control an infestation of scarlet lily beetles, you&#8\2\17;ll have to eradicate their eggs. Photograph by Nikk via Flickr.
Above: To control an infestation of scarlet lily beetles, you’ll have to eradicate their eggs. Photograph by Nikk via Flickr.
  • Check your lilies in the morning. Insects are slower in the morning before the sun warms them.
  • Check the underside of the leaves for eggs—they are red and laid in a straight line.
  • Get a cup of soap water and hold it under the beetle. Tap the leaf and the beetle will fall into the cup.
  • Handpick, with gloves, larvae and egg masses. Drop them into the soapy water.
  • Non-chemical means should be used first due to the nearby pollinators.
  • Discard any eaten leaves.
  • If you have a more extensive infestation, use insecticidal soap or neem oil. Follow the directions exactly and avoid all beneficial insects.
  • If all else fails, look for resistant lily varieties online or at your local garden center.

While scarlet lily beetles can be devastating, with a bit of vigilance and a cup full of soapy water, you can interrupt the beetle’s life cycle and save your lilies.

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Frequently asked questions

What are Scarlet Lily Beetles?

Scarlet Lily Beetles are bright red beetles that are a major pest for lilies and other members of the lily family. They feed on the foliage and flowers of lilies, causing significant damage.

How can I identify Scarlet Lily Beetles?

Scarlet Lily Beetles are small, oval-shaped beetles that are bright red in color. They have black legs and antennae, and the larvae are slimy and black. The beetles and larvae can often be found on the leaves and flowers of lilies.

What damage do Scarlet Lily Beetles cause?

Scarlet Lily Beetles are known for defoliating lilies. They eat holes in the foliage, chew the edges of leaves, and can quickly strip a plant of its greenery. The beetles also feed on the flowers, which can ruin their appearance and prevent the lilies from blooming.

How can I get rid of Scarlet Lily Beetles?

There are several methods to control Scarlet Lily Beetles. Handpicking is one option, where you physically remove the beetles and larvae from the plants. Another method is using insecticides that specifically target these beetles. Neem oil can also be effective as a natural insecticide. Additionally, encouraging beneficial insects like ladybugs or lacewings can help control the beetle population.

When is the best time to control Scarlet Lily Beetles?

The best time to control Scarlet Lily Beetles is in early spring when the beetles first emerge. Regular monitoring of lilies throughout the growing season is important to catch the beetles early and prevent their population from increasing.

How can I prevent Scarlet Lily Beetles from infesting my lilies?

To prevent Scarlet Lily Beetles, it is recommended to remove plant debris and fallen leaves from the garden, as they can attract beetles. You can also consider planting lilies in containers or using physical barriers such as netting to keep beetles away. Additionally, practicing good hygiene by regularly inspecting and removing any beetles or larvae can help prevent infestations.

Are Scarlet Lily Beetles harmful to humans?

Scarlet Lily Beetles are not harmful to humans. While they can be a nuisance for lily enthusiasts, they do not pose any direct threat to human health.

Can Scarlet Lily Beetles be found in regions other than the United States?

Yes, Scarlet Lily Beetles can be found in various regions around the world. They are prevalent in Europe, North America, and other temperate regions where lilies are grown.

Can I use organic methods to control Scarlet Lily Beetles?

Yes, there are organic methods that can help control Scarlet Lily Beetles. Using neem oil, handpicking, and encouraging natural predators like ladybugs are all eco-friendly approaches to manage these pests.

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