Target Japanese beetle larvae with entomopathogenic nematodes in the fall

What are Japanese beetles?

As name implies Japanese beetles, Popillia japonica are native to Japan but in the United States, they were first accidentally introduced into New Jersey in 1916. Currently, Japanese beetles have been distributed throughout the United State and causing economic loss to many agricultural and horticultural crops, and reducing aesthetic values of many ornamental plants. Japanese beetle adults are shiny and attractive metallic-green in color, oval shaped and about 1.5 inch long (Fig. 1.). These beetles cause a severe damage to leaves (Fig. 1), flowers (Fig.2) and ripening fruits of different plant species.  In case of severe infestation, adult Japanese beetles can completely skeletonize all the leaves (Fig. 3) and eventually defoliate the whole plants.  Larvae (also called grubs) of Japanese beetle make C- shape when they are disturbed (Fig. 4) and they possess three pairs of thoracic legs. They are whitish in color with yellowish-brown colored head capsule. Japanese beetle grubs generally feed on the roots of turf grass and many ornamental plants. The damage caused by Japanese beetle grubs to turf grass is easily recognized.


"The Japanese beetles"
Fig.1. Japanese Beetles feeding on rose leaves
"The Japanese beetles feeding on roses"
Fig. 2. Adult Japanese beetles are feeding on the rose flowers
"The severely skeletonized rose leaves"
Fig.3. Rose leaves are completely skeletonized by Japanese beetle adults
"The Japanese beetle larvae or grub"
Fig. 4. Japanese beetle larvae or grubs feed on the turfgrass roots.

Signs of Japanese beetle infestation and damage to lawns and golf courses.

  • At the beginning of infestation in your lawn, you will notice localized patches of dead turf grass, which is always confused with the symptoms of water stress.
  • As the feeding activity of grubs on turf roots increases, small patches of dead turf are enlarged and joined together to form the large areas of dead turf.
  • This dead turf is generally loose and can be easily picked up with hand like a piece of carpet.
  • The most important sign of presence of Japanese beetle grubs in your lawn is that the infested areas of lawn is destroyed by digging animals such as raccoons and skunks or by birds that are looking for grubs to feast on them.

Life cycle of Japanese beetle:

For Japanese beetles, it takes about one year to complete egg to egg life cycle.  For example, adults of Japanese beetles emerge from pupae in the late June through July and start feeding on leaves, flowers and fruits. While feeding they mate and lay eggs in the soil near grass root zone at the depth of 1-2 inches. The eggs hatch within 1-2 weeks (i.e. in August) and first instar grub immediately starts feeding on grass roots and organic matter.  Grubs develop into two more instars August through October by continuously feeding on grass roots. In September and October they start moving deep into soil for overwintering.  When weather warms in April, grubs move back into the turf root-zone, start feeding on turf roots again and continue to develop and early in the June they pupate into the soil.  Then adults of Japanese beetles emerge from pupae in the late June, then they mate, lay eggs and life cycle continues.

What are entomopathogenic nematodes?

Entomopathogenic nematode are also called as insect-parasitic nematodes, which are defined as thread-like microscopic, colorless and un-segmented round worms. These round worms are the members of both Steinernematidae and Heterorhabditidae families and currently used as an excellent biological control agents against many soil dwelling insect pests of many economically important insect pests including Japanese beetles.  Entomopathogenic nematodes are sold when they are in the infective juvenile stage that also called as dauer juveniles. These infective juveniles always carry mutualistically associated symbiotic bacterial cells in their gut. Since these bacteria are pathogenic and capable of causing a disease to a variety of insect hosts, they are called as entomopathogenic nematodes.

Which species of entomopathogenic nematodes are effective against Japanese beetles?

Following species of entomopathogenic nematodes have been considered to be the most effective species against Japanese beetle grubs (see below for the optimum rates of nematodes).

  • Heterorhabditis bacteriophora nematodes
  • Heterorhabditis zealandica
  • Heterorhabditis indica nematodes
  • Steinernema scarabaei
  • Steinernema carpocapsae nematodes
  • Steinernema rivobrave

Why fall is the time to apply nematodes and reduce existing populations to prevent future outbreaks of Japanese beetles.

As we know that Japanese beetles overwinter in their larval stages. To do this, they will start moving deep into the soil in September and October (depending on the temperature). In some places the temperature has already started declining, which is an important cue for Japanese beetle larvae to get ready for winter weather.  Therefore, it is time to apply entompopathogenic nematodes which can target the Japanese beetle larvae that start going deep into the soil for overwintering.

What stages of Japanese Beetles can be targeted?

  • All the immature stages of Japanese beetles are susceptible to entomopathogenic nematodes.
  • Adults of Japanese beetles are also susceptible to entomopathogenic nematodes.

How can Entomopathogenic Nematodes kill Japanese beetle larvae?

When the infective juveniles of entomopathogenic nematodes are applied to the soil surface or thatch layer, they start looking for their hosts including Japanese beetle grubs. Once a grub has been located, the nematode infective juveniles penetrate into the Japanese beetle grub body cavity via natural openings such as mouth, anus and spiracles. Then these infective juveniles enter grub’s body cavity where they release symbiotic bacteria (Xenorhabdus spp. for Steinernematidae and Photorhabdus spp. for Heterorhabditidae) from their gut in grub blood. When in the grub’s blood, multiplying nematode-bacterium complex causes septicemia and kills Japanese beetle grubs usually within 48 h after infection.  Nematodes generally feed on multiplying bacteria, mature into adults, reproduce and then emerge as infective juveniles from the cadaver to seek new Japanese beetle grubs or other insect host that present in the soil.

When, how and how many entomopathogenic nematodes should be applied for the effective control of Japanese beetles?

For details read our blog


Grewal, P.S., Koppenhofer, A.M., and Choo, H.Y., 2005.  Lawn, turfgrass and Pasture applications. In: Nematodes As Biocontrol Agents. Grewal, P.S. Ehlers, R.-U., Shapiro-Ilan, D. (eds.). CAB publishing, CAB International, Oxon. Pp 147-166.

Koppenhofer, A.M., Fuzy, E.M., Crocker, R.L., Gelernter, W.D. and Polavarapu, S. 2004. Pathogenicity of Heterorhabditis bacteriophora, Steinernema glaseri, and S. scarabaei (Rhabditida : Heterorhabditidae, Steinernematidae) against 12 white grub species (Coleoptera : Scarabaeidae). Biocontrol Science and Technology. 14: 87-92.

Maneesakorn, P., An, R., Grewal, P.S.and Chandrapatya, A. 2010. Virulence of our new strains of entomopathogenic nematodes from Thailand against second instar larva of the Japanese Beetle, Popillia japonica (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae). Thai Journal of Agricultural Science.43: 61-66.

Mannion, C.M., McLane, W., Klein, M.G., Moyseenko, J., Oliver, J.B. and Cowan D. 2001. Management of early-instar Japanese beetle (Coleoptera : Scarabaeidae) in field-grown nursery crops. Journal of Economic Entomology. 94: 1151-1161.