Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The Beetles Invasion July 8, 2020

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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THE BRITISH INVASION of 1964 brought The Beatles to the U.S., fueling a new rock-and-roll musical movement.

So many songs. “Here Comes the Sun.” “Hey Jude.” “Yellow Submarine.” Those of us who are of a certain age know the lyrics, even if we don’t always understand them. The tunes are catchy, the words memorable.


One of countless Japanese beetles on my ferns.


Now a new type of beetle has invaded. Right in my southern Minnesota yard. That would be beetle spelled with a double e. The Japanese beetle.


The damage the Japanese beetles have caused to my ferns.


Last week I noticed the leaves on my ferns turning brown, dying. I wondered why. But then Randy and I headed out of town for a few days and I forgot about those unhealthy ferns.


Beautiful hydrangea bushes frame the corner of my house. Thus far the Japanese beetles have not eaten these.


Upon our return, Randy mowed lawn and called me outside to photograph our massive hydrangea. It was then I noticed more ferns turning brown and some stripped to skeletal.


A Japanese beetle up close feasting on my ferns.


I took a closer look and discovered Japanese beetles feasting on the ferns. Their distinct iridescent copper-colored bodies and green thorax and heads make them easily identifiable. I needed to get rid of these bugs asap or nothing would remain of my ferns and whatever plant they decide to feast on next. A quick Google search shows they’re not picky eaters and will dine on 300 types of plants.

Last summer they chose my potted cannas. My brother-in-law from Missouri noticed the bug-bitten leaves of my red canna lilies and quickly identified the Japanese beetle as the hungry invader.


The trap we finally found to catch Japanese beetles.


Tuesday morning Randy and I were on a mission to find something to eradicate these beetles. Two local stores were sold out of the coveted traps. I left my name at one business and was told to check back at the second. By then I determined that Japanese beetles are a problem in my community if traps are flying off the shelves.

Fortunately, we found what we needed at an out-of-town Big Box store. I didn’t want to wait and hope that a local store might get the traps in stock.


This Japanese beetle, drawn to the trap by the scent of the attached tablet, eventually fell into the bag. This angle is photographed looking down at the Bag-A-Bug trap.


So now a lovely plastic bag hangs on a stake in our backyard. A solid round tablet of something is attached to attract Japanese beetles. Randy says it smells like citronella. I can’t smell the scent. But apparently the beetles can. Within an hour, Japanese beetles were already drawn to the sweet smell, eventually fell into the bag and cannot get out. Gotcha. This could be a long and ongoing process to end this invasion by the beetles.

If you have a Japanese beetle problem, I’d like to hear how you’ve solved it and how bad the situation has gotten for you. Do you have dying ferns? Chewed up flowers? Decimated fruit trees like my brother-in-law in Missouri?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


20 Responses to “The Beetles Invasion”

  1. Ruth Says:

    No beetles to speak of here in the city. But that doesn’t mean they won’t find their way to invade. Glad you got the trap.

  2. dalmatianangel Says:

    We had them last summer. They ate our grapevines. We researched and found that the traps actually attract more of the beetles. Then you have a worse problem. We reported the infestation to the U of M or wherever we found to report to. They just wanted to know where they are in MN. We didn’t really do anything except spray soapy water all over the vines.
    So far no beetles this summer, fingers crossed.
    They start out as larvae in the ground so you can treat the ground. I’m not sure if my husband treated the ground or not.

  3. Littlesundog Says:

    Some kind of caterpillar has attacked my cone flowers this year. The flowers look great but the leaves are completely chewed away. Nothing else in my flower beds has been affected like this. A few other plants have chew marks on both leaves and flowers, but not as devastating as the cone flowers. I noted this year that my dill was not attacked by caterpillars which is common each year. I just have to watch it and harvest quick before they get it all! We never treat anything here, not even the garden. For one thing, this place is huge and impossible to eradicate pests, and we do try to avoid toxins of any kind. Secondly, all of these things change from year to year. Even prevalence of certain weeds/plants. They’re here for a year or a few, and then gone for a while. I can’t keep up with nature! I sure hope the bag trap works well for you. Your hydrangeas are lovely!

  4. jhc1218 Says:

    Ah yes, we have them as well. They primarily stick to the one scrubby tree in our backyard and decimate the leaves. Jason sprayed it down the other days with something he picked up at the big box store. The trick is to treat the grubs in May before they develop in beetles. We never remember though. The U of M extension service has lots of info on their website. Be careful of the traps. You will attract lots of them to your yard. Best to hang it in a far corner of the yard or better yet, your neighbors yard.

  5. Japanese beetles have not gotten to my part of the state, but I am familiar with them as a Master Gardener. You will want to keep a close eye on your yard as traps can actually attract more beetles. The reader above mentions that too. It may depend on how big a yard you have, what is near the trap and possibly what your neighbors are doing. I’m sharing a link to the U of M Extension page on Japanese beetles. This is probably more than you want to know about them, but you’ll note, traps are not recommended. Picking them off early in the morning is one thing many gardeners do. Yes, that is tedious and maybe impossible if you have a lot. But, I hope this helps if not this year, maybe next summer. I also put the website in the box below. Good luck!

  6. Neil Says:

    Good luck on getting rid of these things! So far, they have once again denuded our grapes, fruit trees, rose bushes, roses of sharon, cannas, etc. A new plant that we haven’t seen them eat before is the rhubarb! Among all of the plants that they enjoy, there is only one weed they they’ve ever helped us control (Japanese knot weed).

    We have learned that the traps are not good. You feel like you’re making progress because you’ve trapped so many! The problem is that there are sooo many more out there! The tablet actually contains some sort of pheromone that attracts them, so in addition to trapping your own bugs, you’re sending out an invitation to all of the bugs in the neighboring yards. Unfortunately, not all of them make into the trap, and overall, you just end up with more in your yard. Plus, as you’ve probably discovered by now, the dead beetles begin to reek within a day or two!

    If you’re only worried about a few plants, the soap in a bucket technique works well (any dish soap will do). You pick the beetles off the plants and drop them into the bucket. It is very time consuming and labor intensive, so if you have them on a lot of plants, it’s a losing battle. I haven’t tried just spraying the plants with the mixture (never thought of it before). Sounds like a good idea to try.

    If you’re a believer in better living through modern chemistry, there are a number of pesticides that are quite effective. Getting the grubs in the spring may be the best route. Unfortunately, we have too much acreage to cover. Also, with the increased grub population, we now have more moles than we used to!

    Another suggested technique that doesn’t work well is to get some Guinea hens. We’ve had Guineas since before the beetles came. While they are voracious bug eaters (and they do eat Japanese beetles), they haven’t kept these beetles under control. It’s because the hens eat everything from eye level to ground level. Most of the beetles are simply out of their reach. Another shortcoming to this technique is that your neighbors may not appreciate the music that these birds create!

    Other than planting only species that this bug will not eat, it seems that we will have to learn to live with them. If you discover the magic control formula that has no downsides, I’m certain that you will make a fortune!

    • I’m sorry the Japanese beetles continue to ravage your grapes, fruit trees, roses, rhubarb…

      I appreciate your insights on the bug catcher bag. We will need to rethink that strategy. We arrived home from the lake today to see the beetles had chewed through the plastic bag.

  7. Beth Annx Says:

    The battle begins! I have something eating some of my plants as well but I suspect it is slugs of some kind which I have seen a lot of . I have not seen any Japanese beetles yet but then I have not been very pro active in treating anything this year either. My herbs are doing well and that is honestly all that I care about right now. I don’t have much in the way of plants other than ferns and Lenten roses because of our deer population and I am fine with that. Good luck with the battle!

  8. Missy’s Crafty Mess/Missy’s Handarbeid Says:

    We’ve never had beetles but we did have these strange looking caterpillars that made nests in our trees that looked like gigantic spider webs. We cut down all of the nests and haven’t seen them since.

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