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Beware Leatherjacket Larvae could be cutting your lawn before you do!

LeatherjacketWhenever we get a prolonged spell of wonderful weather, we tend to pay for it at a later date. Since the Indian Autumn of 2007, the United Kingdom has experienced pay back. Although not cold, in fact still extremely mild, there has been prolonged spells of rain and with it, brings more than it's fair share of problems.

The autumn in 2007 was exceptionally dry and mild and the weather since has been rather mild and wet. All good news if you are a Leatherjacket Larvae that has recently hatched.

The peak egg laying period for an adult Crane Fly or Daddy Long Legs as they are affectionately known is the second week of September. The Crane Fly like the name suggests is a fly, completing it's life cycle from egg to adult in one calendar year.

As the grass is now growing, it will be sending down nice fresh young white roots - the food supply for a developing Leatherjacket Larvae!

The Larvae eat the grass roots, and with no grass roots, your lawn will experience poor winter recovery as the grass cannot support itself. Of course, if you do not have actively growing grass when you need it most, the lawn will deteriorate quickly.

Depending on the intensity of the infestation, scavenging birds, who instinctively know where to look, come to gorge on this rich food source below

The birds will easily tear through weakened turf, (with no roots) which literally sits on the soil surface like a carpet.

The Leatherjacket larvae or Tipula paludosa, should not be confused with Chafer Beetle Larvae which is a completely different topic all together and these live in the soil for up to three years.

Identifying Leatherjacket Larvae

Each female Cranefly lays approximately 300 eggs, which are small, oval and black. They are laid in the soil and hatch in about 14 days.

Leatherjackets are brown/grey legless grubs that have a tough leathery texture (hence the name). The larvae are 2.5 – 4.0cm when fully grown. The head is black and retractile and on the last segment there are two dark coloured holes through which air enters the body; these are surrounded by six conical projections.

Why you should be concerned

For many lawn owners, having the Leatherjacket Larvae in the lawn is nothing more than an irritation when the birds come a pecking. For lawn lovers it can become much worse, especially if the infestation is severe.

You do not just have to deal with the unsightly mess that the birds have created whilst searching for the larvae. The greatest danger is from the damage caused by the larvae eating through the grass roots, thus destroying the plant. The greater the infestation and faster your lawn declines.

Symptoms

Larvae feed on the roots of many plants, just below the soil surface. On warm humid evenings they will also feed on the soil surface; eating plants at soil level.

Bare or yellow patches in turf areas and wilting plants, severed at their roots are the first visible signs of attack and can be confirmed by lifting a turf to reveal the grubs beneath. Birds and other predators scratching at the surface to get at the grubs causes further damage to the turf.

Control

Eradication by applying an insecticide based on the active ingredient Chlorpyrifos is the most cost effective control method, ahead of ANY lawn renovation programme.

There are 'green' alternatives based upon Nematodes but the cost of supply only per single square metre is incredibly high and may be prohibitive!

If grass seed is sown in an affected area, Leatherjackets will eat the new succulent shoots just as soon as they emerge.

Should you be scared? Well, yes! If you have a decent lawn and want it to stay that way then it is suggested you do several tests around the lawn and inspect the top 25mm of soil. It is not uncommon to count up to 200 ravenous larvae per each single square metre of lawn.

Get a gardening knife and cut back the turf to just below the root zone to see if you can identify the LJ larvae. They will not be any deeper than 25mm in the soil as they feed on the stems and roots of the grass. If the turf lifts like it has no roots, a sure sign of an infestation or rolls back like a carpet.

If you cannot find any leatherjackets in an area that birds have been targeting, then it is possible that the birds have eaten them all so assess an area of lawn that has not been ravaged by the birds; like on the circumference of a bird frenzy area, you will no doubt find some.

If you find a grub a little deeper in the soil that has a milky white body and a copper head with three pairs of legs on the upper part of its body, these are Chafer Beetle Larvae.


For more information on Leatherjackets, check out our technical leaflet.

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