While the azalea blooms are beautiful, it’s hard to remember what the leaves looked like last summer. But, if you look carefully, you may see some off-colored, bleached out leaves. Those are from a piercing-sucking insect. Its azalea lace bug, Stephanitis pyrioides. They overwinter as eggs on the underside of infested leaves or in the leaf litter or mulch under the shrub. Eggs hatch in late March and early April. The insect then passes through five nymphal instars before becoming an adult. It takes approximately one month for the insect to complete development from egg to adult and there are at least four generations per year. Valuable plants that are susceptible to lace bug damage should be inspected in the early spring for the presence of overwintering lace bug adults, eggs and newly hatched nymphs. Inspect these plants every two weeks during the growing season for developing lace bug infestations.
Both adults and nymphs have piercing-sucking mouthparts and remove sap as they feed from the underside of the leaf. Lace bug damage to the foliage detracts greatly from the plants’ beauty, reduces the plants’ ability to produce food, decreases plant vigor and causes the plant to be more susceptible to damage by other insects, diseases or unfavorable weather conditions. The azalea can become almost silver or bleached in appearance from the feeding lace bug damage.
However, lace bugs often go undetected until the infested plants show severe damage sometime into the summer. By then several generations of lace bugs have been weakening the plant. Inspecting early in the spring and simply washing them off the underside of the leaves can help to avoid damage later and the need for pesticides.
Adult lace bugs are flattened and rectangular in shape measuring 1/8 to 1/4 inch long. The area behind the head and the wing covers form a broadened, lace-like body covering. The wings are light amber to transparent in color. Lace bugs leave behind spiny black spots of frass (excrement).
Lace bug nymphs are flat and oval in shape with spines projecting from their bodies in all directions. A lace bug nymph goes through five growth stages (instars) before becoming an adult. At each stage the nymph sheds its skin (molts) and these old skins often remain attached to the lower surface of infested leaves.
Azalea lace bug eggs are football-shaped and are transparent to cream colored. Lace bug eggs are found on the lower leaf surface, usually alongside or inserted into a leaf vein. Adult females secrete a varnish-like substance over the eggs that hardens into a scab-like protective covering. Other plant species, such as lantana and sycamore, may have similar symptoms. But, realize that lace bugs are host specific. They feed on their favorite plant and won’t go to another plant species. However, the life cycle is similar. Be sure to clean up all the damaged leaves. That’s where the eggs will remain for the winter. Start next spring egg-free.
For more information go to: http://entomology.ifas.ufl.edu/creatures/orn/shrubs/azalea_lace_bug.htm
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