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The devastating Japanese beetle in Kentucky
Kentucky Ag Connection - 03/04/2024

The Japanese beetle is a major pest for ornamental plants in the eastern US, including Kentucky. Accidentally introduced in 1916, this insect found an ideal habitat in the region's climate, vast grassy areas, and diverse plant life.

First Found in Kentucky:

Kentucky's first encounter with the Japanese beetle came in 1937, near Louisville. Initial efforts involved treating isolated infestations with insecticides to curb their spread. However, beetle populations boomed in the 1950s and 1960s, leading to their presence in all of Kentucky's counties today.

Recognizing the Adult Beetle:

Adult Japanese beetles are metallic green with copper-colored wing covers, measuring about 7/16 inches in length. They have a distinctive row of white tufts on their sides, emerging from the ground in June to feed on various plants. Their activity peaks for 4-6 weeks before gradually dying off, with individual lifespans lasting around 30-45 days.

Feeding Habits and Damage:

These beetles feed on over 300 plant species, including leaves, flowers, and damaged fruits. They typically feed in groups, starting at the top and working their way down, causing significant damage. Their feeding gives leaves a "lacelike" appearance, while severely affected trees may resemble fire-scorched ones. Beetle-damaged leaves also emit an odor that attracts more beetles to the area.

Life Cycle and Threat to Lawns:

Adult beetles lay eggs in the soil, with the larvae hatching and spending the next 10 months as grubs. These grubs feed on the roots of turfgrass and seedlings, particularly thriving in well-maintained lawns like those found in homes, parks, and golf courses. They are relatively drought-resistant and can survive in most soil types.

Grub feeding weakens the grass's ability to absorb water, leading to large dead patches in infested areas. The damaged turf becomes easily detached, exposing the grubs. Early detection and intervention are crucial to preventing severe damage.

Wintering and Emergence:

Grubs overwinter in the soil, becoming inactive when temperatures drop. As spring arrives, they move upwards to resume feeding before pupating and emerging as adults.

Management Strategies:

Managing this pest requires a two-pronged approach: controlling both adults and grubs. Controlling adults focuses on protecting valuable plants, while managing grubs involves applying insecticides to infested turf at the appropriate time.

The Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service provides resources like publications ENT-10 ("Controlling White Grubs") and Entfact 441 ("Insecticides for Controlling White Grub in Kentucky Turfgrass") to help diagnose and control white grubs in Kentucky lawns.

By understanding the Japanese beetle's life cycle and its impact, Kentucky residents can take proactive measures to protect their valuable landscapes from this invasive pest.

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