There are hundreds of species of lacebugs, a small insect that uses its sucking mouthparts to feed on chlorophyll and other nutrients from the infested plant. Many species, such as the azalea lacebug or the sycamore lacebug, feed specifically on one host as indicated by the name. Others, however, like the hawthorn lacebug may attack a range of related plant types. The insects get their name for the intricate pattern of veins on their wings that resembles lace. They are often difficult to spot as mature adults are only 1/8” to 1/3” long.
Lacebugs are common on deciduous and evergreen shrubs and trees including, but not limited to, azalea, sycamore, andromeda, oak, hawthorn, hackberry, rhododendron, crabapple, cherry, and serviceberry. While lacebug feeding is not usually severely damaging, it is unsightly and populations of the insect can grow to harmful levels if left unchecked.
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These tiny pests are found feeding on trees and shrubs in nearly every geography. On deciduous plants, lacebugs overwinter on stems and under bark. On evergreens, they overwinter as eggs on the underside of leaves.
As leaves appear in spring, lacebugs typically begin to emerge. Eggs laid last year, that spent winter on the underside of foliage, or in branches or bark crevices, will hatch. The small nymphs, which have a flat, oval-shaped body, quickly begin feeding on leaf tissue. They will molt their exoskeletons five to six times as they grow to adulthood in just a month or a little longer. The adults will have lace-like wings covering their body that may look similar to a stained glass window. Populations will grow throughout spring into summer and fall. Since they mature quickly, several generations may occur each year and, during the height of summer, both adults and nymphs will be feeding at the same time.
Lacebugs suck chlorophyll and nutrients from the leaves. Though the insects are usually found feeding on the underside, the damage appears on the upper leaf surface as tiny specks or spots. This speckling maybe be yellow or white in color and will spread across the leaf surface as the pests continue to feed. The bottom of infested leaves will look dirty with bits of molted skins and brown insect excrement.
A multi-faceted approach is the best way to manage lacebugs. This starts at the very beginning with proper plant selection. Even for plants like azalea and rhododendron, which are prone to lacebug infestation, there are certain options that are more resistant. Choosing resilient species is the basis for a healthy landscape.
Regular inspections are also important, especially given how quickly lacebugs can reproduce and multiply. Susceptible plants should be checked carefully starting in early spring so that eggs and newly hatched nymphs are spotted in a timely manner. When infestations are causing too much unwanted damage, treatment options are also available. This can even include the release of beneficial insects like green lacewings, which are a natural predator of lacebugs.