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Print

Japanese beetles swarm over young walnut trees last summer. Photos by Chris Young.

Drought dwindles beetle crop

July 18, 2013 at 02:38 PM

The Pekin Times

As she drove recently from Havana to Pekin, Rhonda Ferree passed through a swarm of Japanese beetles “hitting my windshield like crazy,” she said.

At Kelly Seed and Hardware store in Peoria, a Washington woman spent $150 on traps that lure bags full of the leaf-eating bugs. “She’s got them really bad,” said store manager Nick Vespa.

Those have been common experiences with the metallic-green beetles since their migration into central Illinois in the mid-2000s grew to a mass invasion in the past several years.

But not this year — at least not yet.

Last summer’s severe drought, the species’ tendency to migrate west and, said one expert, simple mystery have apparently cut this year’s crop of voracious Japanese beetles down significantly, to the relief of farmers, gardeners and backyard foliage decorators in the Pekin-Peoria area.

“I haven’t seen many myself, and I haven’t received many reports — certainly not like the last two years, when people were panicking,” said Ferree, a University of Illinois Extension Service specialist in horticulture based in Havana.

“I expected them in my yard because I irrigated a lot last year,” she said. “I’ve seen a few, but it’s not to a point where I’m going to treat” her plants, flowers and decorative trees that provide the beetle’s favorite diet.

Japanese beetles propagate in similar fashion to common lawn grubs that become airborne as ubiquitous June bugs before laying eggs for larvae to dig in and nestle until next season. The warmer and wetter the soil, the better for the grub.





Last summer was as dry as dust. That and migration serve as the best explanations Ferree said she’s heard about the lowest beetle numbers in central Illinois since 2011, when they may have reached their peak. Still, short-term climate shifts and slow-moving populations leave others uncertain about the bug.

“The reduced beetle numbers” in central Illinois “remain a mystery,” said U of I Extension expert Phil Nixon.

“Japanese beetle is one of the most heavily researched insects in the world, but this illustrates that life always has additional things to teach us,” Nixon said.

From his observations behind Kelly Seed’s sales counter, Vespa said that while overall sales of beetle traps are down for the second year, customers are still seeking solutions to the bugs in Washington, Metamora and Morton.

“It might still be too soon to call” a final score for the beetle season, he said.

Ferree said the U of I Extension recommends beetle traps, which use pheromone-soaked tablets to attract male bugs, only to lure them from nearby plants and trees that are already infested. Vespa suggests a lawn treatment with milky spore, which will continue killing beetle grubs for several years.

Follow Michael Smothers at Twitter.com/msmotherspekin

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