Beware of Skeletonizing Leaf Beetles!

“What insect is common to but not native of Alabama, and is occasionally know as a “skeletonizer”, a creepy adjective at best?”

Here’s a clue – if you have rose bushes or grape vines, you probably have a good idea of what’s coming, or is already here.

The Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica) is emerging and feeding in landscapes and gardens, leaving a trail of plants with leaves eaten away except for the veins and stems.

Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica)

Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica)

About ½” in size (a little larger than a Lady bug), with shiny copper-colored wing covers, metallic green head and thorax, the Japanese beetle is easy to spot as it munches through foliage of several common landscapes varieties. Roses (leaves and buds) are among its favorites, but crape myrtles, birches, grapes, strawberries, peas, and a host of others are targets for the beetle’s amazing appetite.

In this area, most recommendations are two-part: one to control the adult beetles and the second to control its larval stage, which takes place out of sight in soil near plants that adults are feeding on now.

Hand pick adults in the morning, dropping the slow-moving beetles in a pail of soapy water, or use one of several effective insecticides if spraying is a component of control.

Controlling the larval (grub) stage of the beetle supports a longer-term solution – you won’t see results as quickly as hand-picking adults. Milky spore, produced by a bacterium, is a biological control measure that attacks the grub stage, killing the juvenile form of this pest. Additionally, publication ANR 1250 from the Extension website covers a variety of materials that control the entire Japanese beetle life cycle.

Like most insect pests, Japanese beetle populations vary from year to year, some areas of metro Birmingham experience higher numbers than others. Watch out for the beetles, remove adults as quickly as possible before damage is done, and plan ahead for next year.

By Sallie Lee, Urban Regional Extension Agent, Alabama Cooperative Extension System.  Contact Sallie at

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) operates as the primary outreach organization for the land-grant functions of Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities. ACES is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity and the diversity of its workforce.  Educational programs of ACES serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or national origin.

Alabama Extension

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System operates as the primary outreach organization for the land-grant functions of Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities and answers home-gardeners' questions each week on Birmingham Gardening Today.

2 thoughts on “Beware of Skeletonizing Leaf Beetles!

  1. I want to put up a split rail fence which will have 2 ft. add to the height because I am placing it on a ridge and the deer aproach from the low side. Will a 5 ft. height repel the small Al deer?

    • Well, if you ask my friends who have deer issues, they have a tough time keeping deer out with anything other than an electric fence. I feel like it should, but it depends on what you consider a small Alabama deer. I think “can the deer in your area jump a 5ft fence” is a question the game warden or wildlife biologist in your area might best answer.

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