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Local residents deal with onslaught of the Japanese beetles

July 13, 2018 – They start at the top of the trees, working their way down, eating every bit of foliage in their path and leaving behind them the skeletal remains of the leaves—and they are, by all reports, even worse this year than normal.

Popillia japonica, or the Japanese beetle, measures about half an inch, with an iridescent, coppery body and emerald green thorax and head. In North America, it has yet to attract the attention of any natural predator, and so, with its hunger for such plants as rose bushes, grapes, birch and linden trees, munches its way through yards and gardens in Excelsior Springs, causing gardeners and homeowners to try method after method in effort to control them.

Lani O’Dell, who operates a produce and plant stand called 3 Hippies & a Artichoke said she’s been fortunate so far and hasn’t seen too many of them on her own plants. When she does, she said she puts them in a jar full of soapy water, then dumps it after a few days. She said hardware stores sell bags which trap the beetles through the use of a pheromone, which lures the beetles in. However, most gardeners agree that the trap is a double-edged sword.

Beetle traps get bad raps

“They work … too well,” said local Paul Hutton. “They do attract lots and lots of them. They literally swarm those traps.”

He said the ones he purchased did warn users not to use them near the plants being protected, as they may do more harm than good. His wife Jennifer said to not throw the bags away in the house or garage if residents do happen to use the traps. A bag of dead beetles smells just as bad as a rotting animal, she said.

Excelsior Springs resident Kim Roth said she set up a bag and the beetles immediately swarmed it. She likened it to a scene reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s movie The Birds. She said within a day, she filled a 13-gallon trash bag full of beetles. She added she won’t be using the traps again.

Kim Roth said she “learned her lesson” on using the beetle traps. Experts said to not use traps close to plants as they attract the insects. (Photo by Kim Roth)

Excelsior Springs resident April Graham and her mother Theresa Henson, agree with O’Dell on the usage of strong, soapy water, which Graham said kills the beetles within minutes, without harming the plants. They use about 1/8 cup of Ajax dish soap in a large, handheld spray bottle full of water. Graham said people should remember to avoid spraying honeybees and other beneficial insects.

The University of Missouri refers to this method as an “eco-friendly method of pest control.” However, not all soap is created equal when it comes to pest control. Because of that, determining what works best for which targeted pest becomes important, and also how they attack the plants needing protection. As a general rule, most insects feed primarily from the underside of leaves, so spraying from below results in better pest control than spraying from a different angle.

‘Season’ coming to a close

The good news about the return of the Japanese beetles this year? They’ll be leaving soon.

Japanese beetles have a “season” that typically lasts between 30 to 45 days, beginning in June, ramping up through July, and ending in August.

However, as Becky McClellan, another local gardening enthusiast said, the increased presence of Japanese beetles also leads to an increase in moles, as moles feed upon the larvae. And well-fed moles lead to a mole baby boom.

Which means the beetles will leave your leaves alone just in time for the new moles to dig up your yards.

Gardening in Missouri may not be meant for the faint at heart.

RELATED: More on moles…

By Samantha Kilgore •

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