The Red Lily Beetle is back…

It is the time of year when many beautiful and naughty insects fly into the garden. This one is a particularly glamorous yet evil little beastie. The red lily beetle, flies around like a ladybird, but has a very good playing dead pose balanced on its back with its feet and antennae tucked in.

If you disturb the lily beetle at work; munching foliage, mating, or laying eggs , which are its main pastimes,  it drops to the soil and is surprisingly hard to spot as it lies on its back.

The worst damage is done by the larvae which hide on the undersides of the leaves in their own black excrement (!) and eat all the green parts of the lilies leaving a trail of deliquescing slime in their wake. By the time you notice the damage it is usually too late. The lily beetle prefers lilies and fritillaries but it will also happily destroy the leaves of other plants as well.

I love lilies but have more or less given up trying to grow them as these guys just fly in over the fence and there is not much I can do about them.

Brian has been known to squash them but they have very hard shells.

The simplest answer is not to grow lilies and I get increasingly fond of plants that insects don’t destroy and choose my shrubs and plants accordingly. We have found that nematodes watered into the soil do help to keep slug numbers down, though snails of course are a different story…

The last few days we have been seeing a brand new insect to us. It’s a bee fly or Bombylius major.

 It has a brown soft body and a long proboscis and looks like a bee and hovers and is generally very busy and almost impossible to photograph. Here is a lovely picture of one uploaded to Wikipedia taken by Richard Bartz with a Creative Commons licence.

This isn’t a bee though, but a parasitic fly which lays eggs in the nests of ground dwelling bees and wasps. I don’t know if I’ve never noticed one before or if they are new to my area.

What’s flying around in your garden at the moment?

39 thoughts on “The Red Lily Beetle is back…

  1. FEARN

    Saw a butterfly today – Now you don’t normally see those in Scotland this early!

    Watched that TV programme about African bees last night. It gave a new perspective on urban bee keeping. I’d love to set up a colony. But don’t think our neighbours would thank us as there are many young families.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hi Fearn nice to meet you :) How lovely to see a butterfly in Scotland! I have seen one or two but we are not a very butterfly rich garden for some reason, I don’t have any buddleia growing, though we do get a fair number of bees most days.

      I don’t think I could manage bees and hives and inquisitive dogs, not a good combination and if they got an inkling that there was honey in the hive…. But lots of people keep bees in Bristol and if you have space maybe later. I must look for the African bee programme, what channel was it on ? :)

  2. heidiannie

    Right now there are a lot of mosquitoes.
    There are also bees.
    We have a Hummingbird Moth that visits every summer. They are quite pretty and mostly benign- http://www.silkmoths.bizland.com/hthysbe.htm .
    May I just say how much I enjoyed your descriptive account of the effect the red lily bug has on lily surfaces “…leaving a trail of deliquescing slime in their wake”?
    Good post- thanks, Joanna!

    1. Joanna Post author

      @ Heidi I found mosquitos in the water butt, the stoppers had fallen in and we had to wait for rain for them to float up to the top so we could reach them. I do like that Hummingbird Moth Heidi, thanks for the link! ! I would sing with excitement if one of those turned up in my garden :)

      @ Misky isn’t it a great word though? I thought afterwards maybe technically not quite deliquescing ( I know it in the context of picking shaggy ink cap mushrooms, of which the books always say, ‘they auto-deliquesce’ )

      It basically means ‘to become liquid while decomposing’ in case anyone else is wondering ;)

  3. Misky

    Jo, what do you call these humungous bumblebee type baratone buzzing bee-ish things that are about the size of a man’s thumbnail?

    1. heidiannie

      Here we have a carpenter bee that matches that description. It is huge, slow, and noisy and very destructive, boring holes into the houses and decks to lay eggs.

        1. Misky

          Such an interesting page! First I looked up Heidi’s carpenter bees. It wasn’t one of those, if the photos and info on Wikipedia is right. My buzzer was plumb, fat, round, fluffy with hair, and mostly black. It was caught in the pleat of the bedroom curtain, and buzzed angrily when I tried to draw them closed in the evening. I helped it outside, and then quickly closed the window. Funny how spring in its various forms try to fly in the window at this time of year. I tend to think it was a big mama queen bumblebee looking for a new home.

          I was interested to read that you had success with nematodes for slugs. I might try that this year.

            1. Misky

              Yes, I did see that one. Very similar but mine didn’t have that hinged effect between the head and body. It was just a big fluffy wad of buzzing blackness. Although I do admit that I didn’t get too close for a look…. ;)

  4. hotlyspiced

    What a nasty little beetle and it sure does have some amazing survival techniques. I’ve seen these beetles before and have been warned not to be fooled by their pretty appearance. We’ve just moved house and I’m still getting set-up. Once the inside is under control I’ll start looking to see what we have in our garden xx

    1. Joanna Post author

      How exciting to have moved! I hope you are very happy in your new home and look forward to hearing about your garden one day soon ;)

  5. ceciliag

    We have a nasty called the japanese beetle, it also has a hard shell and i spray them with Dishwashing liquid. Dawn. i don’t know if you get that and it kills them dead. It might work on your beetle. I don’t know about that bee fly though, he looks even nastier!! c

    1. Joanna Post author

      I don’t really like spraying and we have a relatively small garden, so I should be able to deal with most insect problems manually or by planting different things, but I have been known to mix up washing up liquid and spray it on the aphids when they have been very bad and I would probably have a go at the beetles if there were loads and loads of them. The bee fly doesn’t do anything to humans, but she sounds like a potential problem to honeybees.

  6. Debra Kolkka

    My tiny balcony doesn’t get too many pests. Last year I sprayed the ants on my peony, but I was told I should have left them there.
    I went into the Garfagnana yesterday to make bread with Paolo. I thought of you.

    1. Joanna Post author

      The ants are a funny one, they run all over the peony buds here too and I don’t know what they are doing but the flowers seem to develop normally so like you I think I will leave them alone as long as they don’t come in the house.

      How exciting making bread – I bet you had a good time :)

  7. Suelle

    Funnily enough – we’ve had a bee fly (or even a few of them) in the garden for the past few days. I’ve never seen one before – they look like smaller versions of Hummingbird Hawk Moths at first glance, so I was quite confused until I did a bit of research.

    1. Joanna Post author

      I think we have more than one buzzing about, They seem to either look in the flowers or spend time on the mulched beds, maybe they are looking for bee burrows to invade – I wonder if the warm still weather has brought them from somewhere else – so they are new to you – interesting :)

      Edit: I’ve been told they are English and the only one we see in the garden is the one mentioned above, maybe there’s been a small population explosion, mild winter or something like that?

  8. Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial

    Oooh, naughty insects, our main one at the moment is the 28 (26?) spot ladybird, who I think is not a real ladybird at all, but they eat all the squash leaves and they’re a right pain. We try to squash them too, but they seem to have really taken off in the wet summer we had…

    1. Joanna Post author

      So naughty! Anyway I haven’t been out much today and my attention has turned to the jackdaws who are ripping the new buds off my young rowan tree grrrrr !

  9. Bridget

    Never seen that one…don’t think I want to either! We’ve got lots of Bumble Bees at the moment as the weather has been very good here.

    1. Joanna Post author

      I hope it doesn’t arrive on your patch Bridget – the weather has been glorious lately hasn’t it? :)

  10. drfugawe

    Here in Oregon, we are currently being inundated by rain – lots of rain! I doubt any self respecting bugs will dare show their faces until the sun returns -some day. Maybe some slugs can be found slimming around out there, but like the bugs, I shall stay under cover until nicer weather returns.

    1. Joanna Post author

      I remember you telling me it rained a lot in Oregon, we are very dry here right now, though I heard them say on the weather forecast last night that the cold and even some snow might be here again this week. Maybe I’ll delay sowing some of the seeds I was going to do… Stay warm in doors until you get some sunshine Doc :)

  11. Sincerely, Emily

    We have a ton of different butterflies and beautiful moths right now with all the wildflowers blooming. Hummingbirds are around all winter, but very active right now. Other flying insects out there too. I try to ignore them, but sometimes it is hard. The mosquitoes are killer this spring with all the nice winter rains we had. GRRR! Interesting insects/bugs you have there. Both beautiful in their own way.

    1. Joanna Post author

      We don’t get hummingbirds in the UK sadly. I am jealous of your butterflies too and always surprised at the way the mosquito gets everywhere, we had a few hatch in the waterbutt the other day, or some small biting fly or other. We would like a little, just a little, of your rain over here though.

      1. Sincerely, Emily

        I have screens over all but one of my rain barrels to keep the mosquitoes at bay. I just set out a 55-gal barrel under a gutter that leaks and I put 4 mosquito fish (they eat the larvae) in it and they do good work. There is no bottom drain on that barrel, I just scoop out the water in a watering can and the fishies scurry to the bottom out of my way. can you put a screen over the top of your tank/ barrel or put a few minnows in there? I secured the screen with some wire that goes all around the opening so if they get in, they can get out….

        1. Joanna Post author

          I garden on a far smaller scale than you and the butts have to fit into the narrow side passageways down the side of our house. The waterbutts have circular plugs in the top and they had somehow fallen in and we hadn’t noticed. So we let them run right out mosquito larvae and all ( I hope) and then when it did rain the plugs floated up again and we could reach them and re fit them. We don’t have any open barrels, though maybe we should have more water storage. We use these wall ones that take the water from the roof and a barrel shaped one that takes the water from the garage roof. I wish we had mosquito fish in there but I don’t think they would like it.

  12. Robin

    Yuk – lily beetles (the especially yukky part is squashing them). I noticed that a huge macro shot of a lily beetle on a bright green leaf used to be offered as a wallpaper on the Mac. Another reason not to invite one into your house… ;-)

    1. Joanna Post author

      My Mac is behaving itself finally, it turned out its problem was being asked to work with an old usb1 hub, I bought it a new one and it’s all good. Phew! I haven’t been out on a hunt for the beetles today, I guess I should…

        1. Joanna Post author

          They might be a relation but I have never seen them. We were trying to figure out where to squeeze some asparagus crowns in the garden. Maybe not a good idea?

  13. sergioslandscaping

    Thanks for sharing information regarding these insects. It sure is nice to learn from the first hand experience of avid gardeners. For sure, your readers and other gardeners have learned from your post like we did!

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