How to Get Rid of Lace Bugs: Easy, Effective Solutions

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Lace bugs are small, inconspicuous insects that can cause damage to various ornamental plants by feeding on their foliage. They are commonly found on shrubs such as azaleas, rhododendrons, and andromeda, as well as on shade trees like sycamore, hawthorn, and elm. Infestations can lead to the appearance of a grayish cast on affected plants, hindering their aesthetic appeal and overall health.

To effectively manage lace bug populations, it is crucial to adopt an integrated approach combining several methods. By growing healthy plants, employing regular inspections, and employing targeted treatments, you can protect your plants from the detrimental effects of these pests. The following text will delve into various strategies for controlling lace bugs, allowing your landscape to thrive free from their damaging presence.

Understanding Lace Bugs

Biology and Life Cycle

Lace bugs are small, plant-feeding insects with a distinctive, lace-like appearance on their wings and thorax. Their life cycle consists of eggs, nymphs, and adults.

  • Eggs: Female lace bugs lay tiny, oval-shaped eggs on the undersides of leaves.
  • Nymphs: Once hatched, the wingless, dark-colored nymphs begin feeding on plant leaves.
  • Adults: These insects grow up to 1/8 to 1/4 inch in length and have a flattened, rectangular shape with light amber to transparent wings1.

Lace bugs typically complete their life cycle within one season, with multiple generations per year depending on the species and environmental conditions.

Common Species and Host Plants

There are several species of lace bugs that attack different types of plants. Some common species and their host plants are:

  • Azalea lace bug: Feeds on azaleas and rhododendrons2.
  • Andromeda lace bug: Targets andromeda (Pieris) shrubs2.
  • Hawthorn lace bug: Infests hawthorn, elm, walnut, oak, willow, poplar, birch, and basswood trees2.
Lace Bug Species Host Plants
Azalea lace bug Azaleas, Rhododendrons
Andromeda lace bug Andromeda (Pieris) shrubs
Hawthorn lace bug Hawthorn, Elm, Walnut, Oak, Willow, Poplar, Birch, Basswood trees

It’s essential to understand the biology, life cycle, and common species of lace bugs to effectively manage and control these pests in your garden or landscape.

Identifying Lace Bug Damage

Symptoms on Leaves

Lace bug damage is easy to spot on leaves. The most common symptoms include:

  • Mottled appearance: Leaves may appear speckled or stippled, with yellow or pale patches.
  • Decreased plant vigor: Affected leaves might be curled, discolored or distorted, and potentially fall off the plant.

These symptoms occur because lace bugs feed with piercing-sucking mouthparts on the undersides of leaves, extracting chlorophyll and nutrients from the leaf tissues.

Commonly Affected Plants

Lace bugs tend to attack specific types of plants. Some of the most commonly affected include:

  • Azalea
  • Rhododendron
  • Sycamore
  • Oak
  • Hawthorn
  • Walnut
  • Willow
  • Basswood
  • London Plane Tree

Different lace bug species affect certain plants, such as azalea lace bugs on azaleas and hawthorn lace bugs on hawthorn trees. The table below highlights some common lace bug species and their corresponding host plants:

Species Host Plant
Azalea Lace Bug Azalea
Rhododendron Lace Bug Rhododendron
Sycamore Lace Bug Sycamore
Oak Lace Bug Oak
Hawthorn Lace Bug Hawthorn
Walnut Lace Bug Walnut
Willow Lace Bug Willow
Basswood Lace Bug Basswood
London Plane Tree Lace Bug London Plane Tree

It is vital to properly identify lace bug damage and target species to employ the most effective control strategies, including biological and cultural methods to keep the pest population in check.

Preventing and Controlling Lace Bugs

Cultural Practices

Proper cultural practices help prevent lace bug infestations and maintain a healthy garden. For instance:

  • Plant selection: Choose plants that are less susceptible to lace bug damage.
  • Plant location: Place susceptible plants in areas with partial shade, as lace bugs prefer full sun.
  • Soil and watering: Maintain adequate soil moisture and use mulch to keep the roots cool.
  • Garden hygiene: Regularly remove fallen leaves, debris, and old mulch to discourage overwintering.

Natural Predators

Several natural predators help control lace bug populations, such as:

  • Pirate bugs
  • Assassin bugs
  • Spiders
  • Lacewings
  • Ladybugs

For example, lacewing larvae and lady beetles are effective against lace bug nymphs, reducing infestations. Encourage these beneficial insects by providing a diverse landscape, avoiding broad-spectrum insecticides, and attracting them with specific flowers.

Natural Predator Target
Pirate bugs Nymphs, larvae
Assassin bugs Nymphs, adults
Spiders Nymphs, adults
Lacewings Nymphs
Ladybugs Nymphs, mites

Insecticidal Options

Insecticides should be used as a last resort when dealing with lace bugs. Several options are available:

  • Neem oil: A natural, less toxic option for controlling nymphs and wingless adults.
  • Beneficial mites: Release predatory mites to feed on lace bug eggs.
  • Synthetic insecticides: Products like permethrin, bifenthrin, and imidacloprid can be effective. However, use them carefully to avoid harming beneficial insects.

When applying insecticides, focus on the undersides of leaves, where lace bugs typically feed, and use a garden hose sprayer for consistent coverage. Always follow label instructions and apply during cooler parts of the day to reduce plant stress.

Insecticide Advantages Disadvantages
Neem oil Natural, less toxic Less effective on adult lace bugs
Beneficial mites Targets lace bug eggs Availability and application may be an issue
Synthetic insecticides Fast-acting, effective on adults Harmful to beneficial insects, environment

Recognizing Lace Bug Species

Color and Physical Features

Lace bugs are small insects with distinct appearances. Key features include:

  • Transparent wings with lace-like patterns
  • Adult size of around 1/8 inch in length
  • Nymph stages with less obvious wing patterns

For example, azalea lace bugs have transparent wings with dark markings, creating a unique lace appearance.

Host Plant Associations

Different species of lace bugs are associated with specific host plants, such as:

Additionally, other tree species can host lace bugs, including oak, walnut, willow, and basswood.

Here’s a comparison table to summarize lace bug species and their host plants:

Host Plant Lace Bug Species
Azalea Azalea lace bug
Rhododendron Azalea lace bug
Sycamore Sycamore lace bug
Hawthorn Hawthorn lace bug
Oak Various species
Walnut Various species
Willow Various species
Basswood Various species

By understanding the appearance and host plant associations, you can better identify and manage lace bug species in your garden or landscape.

Additional Tips for Lace Bug Management

Applying Insecticides Correctly

To effectively manage lace bugs, choosing the right insecticide and applying it correctly is crucial. Here are some tips:

  • Use a targeted insecticide like neem oil or a systemic pesticide for more severe infestations.
  • Apply the insecticide with a sprayer, focusing on the undersides of leaves, where nymphs and eggs are usually found.
  • If using a chemical pesticide, opt for one with a residual effect to provide ongoing protection.
  • The ideal time for treatment is late spring or early summer, when lace bugs are in their nymph stage.

Example: Neem oil can be applied every two weeks during the infestation season to keep lace bugs under control.

Insecticide Pros Cons
Neem Oil Natural, effective against lace bugs Requires multiple applications
Systemic Pesticide Provides longer-lasting protection May have harmful side effects on beneficial insects

Encouraging Beneficial Insects

Another approach to managing lace bugs is by encouraging the presence of their natural predators. Some beneficial insects that can help control lace bug populations include:

  • Aphid predators like ladybugs and parasitic wasps
  • Thrips
  • Assassin bugs

To attract these helpful insects to your garden, consider planting a variety of flowering plants that provide nectar and pollen. Providing a water source for these insects can also be helpful.

In conclusion, properly applying insecticides and encouraging beneficial insects are two critical elements in managing lace bug infestations. These strategies, combined with proper plant care, can help prevent lace bugs from causing damage to your plants.

Footnotes

  1. Lace Bugs | Landscape Pest Management

  2. Lace Bugs on Trees and Shrubs | University of Maryland Extension 2 3

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Lace Bug

 

Bug
Location: Stanford, Ky (cntrl)
July 3, 2011 3:44 pm
These weird creatures are all around our porch. We cant even sit outside, because there are so many of them. Please tell us what we have here. They look intimidating for their size.The first and third pictures are of the underside. Thank you for your help.
Signature: Thank you, C.Willmon

Lace Bug

Dear C.,
This appears to be a Lace Bug in the family Tingidae.  There is not enough detail in your photo for us to determine the species.  According to BugGuide, Lace Bugs : “Feed mainly on leaves of trees and shrubs, causing yellow spotting and sometimes browning and death of the leaves.”  You should inspect the plants around your porch to determine which tree or shrub has been infested.  You can try spraying the leaves with a strong jet of water on a daily basis to rid the tree of immature insects that will not be able to fly back.  IN a short time, you should be able to control the infestation, but it takes diligence.

Letter 2 – Lace Bug

 

Tiny Bug in Camo
Dear Bugman,
This bug is not large or ferocious-looking, but rather, its a tiny brown fleck of a thing that I first thought was a piece of leaf matter or tree bark. I’m sorry that this photo isn’t more detailed, but the critter was only 3 mm’s in length and all I had at the time was a camera phone. The head of the bug is pointing "northeast." Interestingly, if you look at the space between the middle and the last segment, you can barely make out thin brown membranes, which at first I thought were wings. But the bug never flew, and the "wings" looked useless. Maybe its some incomplete evolutionary appendage. At any rate, I hope the photo is clear enough to make-out; studying this insect provided me with a welcome respite from studying for the bar. I’m trying to keep my karma as clean as possible, so I made sure that the bug now happily munching on a leaf somewhere. Any help with identification would be appreciated.
Jason
Memphis, Tennesse

After spending time searching the net, I do believe the critter is a Hawthorn Lace Bug.

Hi Jason,
You letter is one of the numerous letters we just did not have enough time to answer, despite our good intentions. We hare happy you identified this Lace Bug on your own. As there are numerous species of Lace Bugs in the family Tingidae, we do not feel comfortable taking this to the species level, but we are nonetheless quite impressed with your research skills and predict you will make a very competant lawyer.

Letter 3 – Lace Bug

 

Lace bug photos for your site (re-sent)
At least I *think* it’s a lace bug. (Attached.) This one was sitting on a blade of grass next to an azalea bush; the bush itself was positively infested. The photos were taken in Charlottesville, Virginia, USA on 2008-5-24.
Tim McCormack

Hi Tim,
Thanks for resending your wonderful Lace Bug image. We are uncertain why you online posting kept crashing our browser. Your Lace Bug is the Azalea Lace Bug, Stephanitis pyrioides, according to images posted on BugGuide.

Letter 4 – Lace Bug

 

Intricate little bug
May 2, 2010
Hello again,
I was out photographing again today, and I came across this guy. I felt really lucky to get a shot this clear, because he was truly tiny. Unfortunately, I don’t really even know where to begin in trying to identify it, though it kinda looks like it could be a true bug?
Stephen C
Raleigh, NC

Lace Bug

Hi Stephen,
Thanks for sending us such a nice photo of a Lace Bug in the family Tingidae.  According to BugGuide they:  “Feed mainly on leaves of trees and shrubs. This causes yellow spotting and may cause browning and death of the leaves.
”  We believe this may be the Azalea Lace Bug, Stephanitis pyrioides, which is pictured on BugGuide.

Letter 5 – Lace Bug

 

Subject:  Very strange insect!
Geographic location of the bug:  Great Falls, VA
Date: 06/30/2021
Time: 11:34 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hello!   You helped me identify a pseudoscorpion in Boston in the nineties!  Now I have seen the strangest bug ever in Virginia.  It was less than a centimeter, brown with white markings, slowly walking along.
How you want your letter signed:  Elise H

Lace Bug

Dear Elise,
We love hearing back from folks after years have passed, but we believe your timeline needs a bit of adjusting.  Though Daniel did begin What’s That Bug? in the late 90s, it was a column in a printed “zine” until American Homebody went online after about two years, and What’s That Bug? became a unique website in 2002.  We were unable to locate any ubmissions from Elise or from Boston in our Pseudoscorpions archives, but there were countless identifications we made that did not get posted live to our site.  Your current submission is a Lace Bug in the family Tingidae. According to BugGuide they:  “Feed mainly on leaves of trees and shrubs, causing yellow spotting and sometimes browning and death of the leaves.”

Wow, thank you!!   I will look it up and share the info with everyone.   Really appreciate it.  You’re awesome!  Happy 4th!

Authors

  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

    View all posts
Tags: Lace Bug

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1 Comment. Leave new

  • 1990s. In covington KY a friend was picking me up in his car in my dad’s back alley where there were trees. A swarm of these little bugs were going around me before I got in the car. I had really long hair and they got stuck on my hair. My friend was like what the heck. Do you have LICE? I was like NOOOOOO. I told him the bugs just now flew at me before I got in the car. It really freaked him out because he thought I was infested with lice.

    Reply

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