Lily leaf beetles make Newfoundland debut

Andrea Gunn agunn@live.ca
Published on June 10, 2013

 

Central gardener dealing with them for years

 

 

Grand Falls-Windsor - When Grand Falls-Windsor resident Michelle Rowe first noticed little red beetles in her garden two summers ago, she initially thought they were cute.

Gardening has been a hobby for Rowe for more than a decade, a passion passed down from her mother. A lover of nature, Rowe said she sees no need to disturb any creature that isn't disturbing her.

"It was so bright red, and it stood out in my garden, so I just ignored it," she said.

Within a week or two, Rowe said she noticed four or five more of these little bugs, notably around her lily plants.

"I noticed they were eating (the lilies), they were having a major lunch, so I jumped on the Internet and Googled a description and found out what they were. I've been fighting them off ever since."

The insects she had discovered feasting on her beloved lillies are known as lily leaf beetles or scarlet lily beetles.

The occurrence of bugs of all varieties in a garden isn't anything to raise an eyebrow over, except when those bugs are not known to exist in the region in which they are found.

Rowe said when she found out what the bright red intruders were, she was surprised to read that they had never been spotted in Newfoundland before. She tried to get in contact with several people over the Internet who study invasive species like the lily leaf beetle, but didn't receive a response.

Rowe's aunt, an avid gardener who lives across town from Rowe, also discovered the beetles on her lilies. Rowe said both she and her aunt ordered lily bulbs from a popular and reputable website the fall before she first spotted the beetles. Rowe suspects that's how they both ended up with the pest.

"I ordered the bulbs in October of 2010 and they were expensive, like $80 for a dozen bulbs, and in spring when my lilies came up only half of them came up," she said, "When I discovered this beetle and went online and looked it up I sent (the company) an email and explained my situation."

Rowe said they gave her a discount on her bulbs, but denied the possibility that they sent her the beetles. She continued to try and rid her own garden of the insects for the next several years, but to no avail.

Last fall, Rowe brought up her pest problem with her biology teacher at the College of the North Atlantic.

"My biology teacher really likes bugs. He studied bees in university and so it just came up in conversation during class," she said. "And he kind of didn't believe me."

Rowe said she brought up the beetles several times during the course of the year. In April, her teacher approached her about it, and asked her to bring in a sample.

Several weeks later, Rowe was approached by Dr. Barry Hicks. Hicks is biology professor at the College of the North Atlantic in Carbonear and has a PhD in entomology, or the study of insects.

"My colleague sent me (the sample) and sure enough, it's a lily leaf beetle," said Hicks.

According to Hicks, the lily leaf beetle lives in Europe, and was first introduced to North America via Montreal in 1943.

Since that time it has spread eastward to Nova Scotia and westward to Manitoba, he said it's southern limit is Connecticut.

He said the adult beetle overwinters in the soil, and mates and reproduces in the spring. During the summer months, both adult beetles and larvae can be found.

Hicks said the beetle is considered an invasive species in Newfoundland since it has no known natural enemies to keep its population numbers in check

"These beetles will only feed on lilies," he said. "They're not a concern for anybody else but people who purchase lilies for their garden."

He said the bugs will chew holes in the leaves of the lilies, and if left to their own devices, could kill the plant.

Hicks said there are several chemicals that can be bought that will kill them at all stages, but otherwise, the best method is just to kill them when they're spotted. He said people sharing plants should be careful as the bugs can be transferred from garden to garden.

Hicks has already been to Grand Falls-Windsor to visit Rowe and her aunt and take samples of the insects this spring. He will be returning later this month to do some more extensive work.

"We're interested to know if it's anywhere else," said Hicks. "If they're not anywhere outside of Grand Falls-Windsor, well we might be able to keep them in Grand Falls-Windsor."

"We're going to take this (information) and write up a report to make it official that these (insects) are officially now in Newfoundland," said Hicks.

Hicks is asking anyone who thinks they might have seen these very distinct insects in their garden to contact him. He can be reached by phone at 596-8956 or via email at barry.hicks@cna.nl.ca.