How Do I Know If I Have Leatherjackets Or Chafer Grubs

Leatherjackets are the larvae of the Crane Fly, better known as the Daddy Longlegs.

When you start to see the adult daddy-long-legs in your garden (towards the end of August) you will know that in a few days they will be laying eggs. These will hatch quickly, within two weeks. The young start to feed, continuing throughout winter, ready to gorge on grass roots in spring.

During the mild months of late autumn and early spring the larvae will feed voraciously on grass roots, and a sure sign of lawn damage by these pests are dry, yellow patches, which will become ore evident in the spring and early summer.Left untreated these patches will eventually become brown as the grass plants die altogether. Certain birds, especially of the crow family and in particular the magpie, can cause further damage as they tear up the lawn looking to feast on the leatherjackets.

Leatherjackets can also sometimes attack plants in the vegetable plot, eating roots and causing the plants to turn yellow or die completely. Simply digging around the affected plants or lifting an area of dying grass should confirm the presence of leatherjackets. They grow to around 1-2cm in size and are generally dark brown in colour and you can expect to find several within a small area.  

Another common garden pest, which can cause similar damage to lawns and other plants is the Chafer grub. This is the larvae of the Chafer beetle, which lives as an adult beetle for around 2-3 weeks during May and June, then laying eggs in the soil or lawn. The larvae will then spend most of its life in the soil feeding extensively on plant roots.

Major infestations can be devastating for lawns and other plants with symptoms becoming evident when the damage has already been done. The grubs can grow to around 2cm in length and are easily identified by their greyish white colour and their curled appearance.

Chafer Grub

Leatherjacket Grub

Unlike the leatherjacket, chafer grubs display typically 3 pairs of legs situated to the front of the body, making them instantly recognisable. It’s usually a plump grub with a light brown head and is a favourite food source of the crow family including starlings, jackdaws, jays and magpies. However, they can also be a tasty meal for foxes and badgers, who will rip up the lawn as they search for them.

There are no chemical remedies available for either leatherjackets or Chafer grubs so one option is to tackle infected areas by removing the grubs manually and then to repair lawns and replace dead plants. Another option, and one preferred by most gardeners, is to apply a biological control known as pathogenic nematodes.

Nematodes are microscopic parasitic worms, which seek out the leatherjackets and chafer grubs and infect them with a bacteria. This infection stops the grubs from feeding and so they eventually die.

Nematodes are a very effective control method because once the host grub has died the nematodes will quickly reproduce, creating a new generation of hungry parasites, which will go in search of new prey. The nematodes are best applied to warm soil in September and before the autumn frosts.



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