Leather Jacket Bug: Understanding and Controlling This Lawn Pest

If you take pride in your lawn’s lush greenery, you may have come across the notorious ‘leather jacket bug’. The name might conjure images of a tiny insect wearing a miniature motorcycle jacket, but in reality, these creatures are far less whimsical. They’re a common pest that can wreak havoc on your garden and grass. Let’s delve into what leather jackets are, how to manage them, the myths surrounding crane flies, and how they differ from chafer grubs.

What Are Leather Jacket Bugs?

Leather jacket bugs are the larval stage of the crane fly, often known as ‘daddy longlegs’. These larvae are named for their tough, skin-like exoskeleton that resembles leather. They’re greyish-brown, legless, and can grow up to an inch long. During autumn, crane flies lay eggs in the grass, and these hatch into leather jackets that feed on the roots and stems of grass and other plants, causing noticeable damage to lawns.

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Leatherjackets Bug (European Crane Fly, Tipulidae). Representatives of the family inhabit all continents, being absent only in arid regions, on small oceanic islands with permanent ice or snow cover, and in the central areas of the Arctic and Antarctica. There are about 4200 species in the world’s fauna. Crane flies are represented by a significant number of species in all biogeographic regions (except Antarctica).

Are Crane Flies Poisonous?

Despite their sometimes intimidating size, crane flies are harmless. They neither bite nor sting and are not poisonous. Adult crane flies are often seen in homes during late summer and early autumn, but they pose no threat to humans or pets.

Leather Jackets vs. Chafer Grubs

Leather jackets are often confused with chafer grubs, which are the larvae of chafer beetles. While both are lawn pests that feed on plant roots, they are different species. Chafer grubs are typically white with a distinct C-shaped body and have three pairs of legs near the head. In contrast, leather jackets are legless and have a more elongated body shape.

The Damage Done by Leather Jackets

The primary issue with leather jackets is the damage they cause as they munch through the roots and stems of your grass. This can result in yellow patches, bare spots, and an overall unhealthy appearance of the lawn. The presence of these pests can also attract other wildlife, like birds and foxes, which dig up the turf to feed on them, causing further damage.

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How Do You Get Rid of Leather Jackets?

Eradicating leather jackets involves a combination of cultural, biological, and chemical methods:

  1. Cultural Controls: Maintain a healthy lawn through proper mowing, watering, and fertilization. A robust lawn can withstand and recover from leather jacket damage more effectively.
  2. Biological Controls: Introduce natural predators like nematodes (specifically Heterorhabditis bacteriophora) which are parasitic to leather jackets. Nematodes are applied as a water mixture over the affected lawn, where they enter the larvae and release bacteria that kill the host.
  3. Chemical Controls: Although chemical options are available, they’re becoming less popular due to environmental concerns. If you opt for insecticides, it’s crucial to follow the instructions carefully and consider the impact on beneficial insects and the wider ecosystem.
  4. Physical Removal: In small areas, manually removing the larvae by hand or using a garden vacuum can be effective.

Remember, the best method is prevention. Encouraging a healthy lawn with proper care is the most effective long-term solution for leather jacket control.

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Leather Jacket Bug Chemical Controls – Fast But Dangerous

Chemical control remains a traditional method for combating leather jacket infestations in lawns, despite growing environmental concerns and a trend towards more sustainable practices. The use of insecticides can offer immediate and, at times, necessary relief from severe infestations, but it’s not without its drawbacks.

Chemical Substances Used for Control

Acelepryn is a modern insecticide that’s been authorized for use against leather jackets and chafer grubs in managed amenity turf and amenity grassland. Its active ingredient is chlorantraniliprole, which targets the insects’ muscle receptors, causing paralysis and ultimately death. It’s applied when adult crane flies are at their peak activity to control the early-stage larvae emerging from eggs​​.

Advantages of Chemical Control

  • Effectiveness: Chemicals like Acelepryn are highly effective in reducing populations of leather jackets, offering rapid relief from infestations.
  • Predictability: The outcome of using such chemicals is generally predictable and consistent if applied correctly.

Disadvantages of Chemical Control

  • Environmental Impact: Insecticides can affect non-target organisms, including beneficial insects, and may disrupt the ecological balance.
  • Resistance Development: Overuse of chemicals can lead to the development of resistant insect populations.
  • Regulatory Restrictions: The use of such chemicals is often regulated due to their potential environmental impact, and they require professional application following an Integrated Pest Management assessment​​.

Biological Controls as an Alternative

As a nod to sustainable practices, biological controls are being increasingly recommended. For example, nematodes such as Steinernema feltiae and Steinernema carpocapsae are used specifically for leather jacket control. These nematodes are host-specific and offer a more environmentally friendly approach as they are safe for humans, pets, and the environment. They are persistent in the soil, providing long-term control, and are particularly effective when used in spring or autumn when the soil temperature is suitable for their activity​​.

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How to Use Beneficial Nematodes?

To use beneficial nematodes such as Steinernema feltiae and Steinernema carpocapsae:

  1. Purchase: You can buy them at most garden centers or online retailers like Amazon. For the freshest supply, purchase directly from producers online​​.
  2. Timing: Apply early morning or evening when the sun is low to avoid heat and UV rays. Match the application timing with the target pest’s life cycle when they are soil-dwellers​​.
  3. Preparation: Aerate and moisten the soil beforehand. Nematodes require moist soil to move and find their prey​​.
  4. Mixing: Mix the nematodes with filtered water to protect them from chlorine. Depending on the packaging, mix by dissolving granules or squeezing a sponge in water​​.
  5. Application: Use a watering can or sprayer to distribute the nematode mixture across the lawn. Ensure an even spread and keep the mixture stirred​​.
  6. Post-Application Care: Keep the soil moist for about 10 days to help nematodes establish themselves. Reapply after 7-10 days to ensure full coverage​​.
  7. Reapplication: If pests persist, reapply every 7-10 days until they are controlled​​.

For effectiveness, follow the package instructions carefully, and store nematodes in a refrigerator, not a freezer, for about two weeks to a month before use​​.

Preventing Future Infestations

After dealing with an infestation, you’ll want to prevent a recurrence. Here are some tips:

  • Lawn Care: A well-aerated, dethatched, and properly fertilized lawn can discourage the laying of eggs by crane flies.
  • Monitoring: Keep an eye on your lawn’s health, especially in late summer and early autumn, to catch any issues early.
  • Encourage Wildlife: Birds and other natural predators can keep leather jacket populations in check.

In summary, leather jacket bugs are a lawn pest that can cause significant damage to your grass. They are the larvae of crane flies and are not to be confused with chafer grubs. While crane flies are not poisonous, their larvae can be quite destructive. Combating leather jackets involves cultural, biological, and sometimes chemical methods, with a focus on lawn health to prevent future issues. Remember, a healthy lawn is your best defense against these unwelcome guests. By following the tips outlined above, you can maintain a vibrant, leather jacket-free garden.

Oliver Thompson
Lawn Care Expert

About Oliver: Oliver Thompson, a seasoned lawn care expert from the Cotswolds with over two decades of experience, invites all enthusiasts to join him in exploring the world of lawns, sharing knowledge, and fostering a vibrant community of lawn enthusiasts. More info

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