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Bugs eating my rose leaves. Any idea who?

May 13, 2005


This is my first post on this forum and I hope you can give me some information. I live near Dallas, Texas. This is my first year to have roses. They have not been sprayed. This is my first encounter with bugs. Four days ago I noticed that something was eating good sized holes in the leaves on two rose bushes. I closely inspected both roses at that time and could not find any critters. The next morning I was shocked to see how many leaves had been eaten in the night. There were lots of leaves that consisted of more holes than leaf. Again, daytime inspection did not reveal any beetles, bugs, or caterpillars. That night I donned a headlamp and took a tupperware bowl of soapy water outside to find and drown the offenders. I was astounded to see that the rose leaves were covered with small dark brown with a very slight metallic sheen, hard bodied, beetle-ish looking bugs, all were about 1/4 inch long, oval shaped body, not a long skinny bug. They have the ability to fly, but are not fast movers. They did not make any attempt to evade me while I picked them off the leaves and put them in the soapy water. I hand picked over 100 bugs off of the two aforementioned roses, and a few bugs off of nearby roses that had previously not had any leaf damage. Last night I picked off more of the same bugs, but the population was significantly reduced. I just came in from removing about 20 bugs from the roses. Again, a significant reduction in population. No other plants in my yard are being eaten. I have looked in one Texas bug book and one general bug book and have googled to find out the identity of this bug, but can't find a critter that matches the description, feeding habits, and season of activity. They do not seem very interested in the rose flowers. They prefer the newer leaves, but some of the older leaves have damage, also. The bugs eat large holes in the leaves, finally decimating the entire leaf. They have eaten entire outcroppings of newly emerging leaves down to the stems.

I know photos would be immensely helpful, but I can't provide them at this time. I hope that the above detailed descriptions are enough to ID this pest.

Does anyone have any clues who this bug is and how long he'll be around? My preference is not to kill off my beneficial insects with chemicals. However, I believe there could be a point where the health of the rose is compromised. And honestly, handpicking bugs every night is not how I want to spend my time longterm. If I could get an identification, then I could select the most effective, least toxic method of elimination. But I guess I've already got that with hand picking. ;)

Thanks for any help you can provide.

On a side note: The last three nights of hand picking bugs has significantly reduced my aversion to touching the critters. I guess this is a good thing? ha!


Comments (36)

  • tinamcg

    Your description sounds like Japanese beetles. A friend of mine from your area (Arlington) reported last year that he heard they were making their way down to Texas. He said they were pretty unknown down there before that. My deepest sympathies to you if you're seeing Japanese beetles, because as bad as the beetles are on foliage and some blooms, their larva are even more destructive to turfgrass roots.

    If this is what you're seeing, then handpicking is the best option. It's really hard to knock them back with chemicals, and safer organic sprays don't work well.

    Here is a link that might be useful: {{gwi:1231374}}

  • TXcathy7b8a

    TinaMcG, I am sure that they are not Japanese beetles, even though I've read that there have been some sightings of JBs in north Texas. My bugs lack the distinctive white markings on their lower sides that JBs have, and my neighbor thinks they do not have the right body compartments to be true beetles. I am not knowledgeable enough about bugs to know. Thank you for your reply, and I'll accept your condolances, even though they aren't JB's. :)

    I'll just keep handpicking and hope they go away soon.

  • jean001

    At a 1/4 inch long, I also doubt they're Japanese beetles.

    Can you take samples to your county's Extension Service office, or to a nearby large independent garden center?

  • TXcathy7b8a

    I do have one in a jar. :) I thought I would see if our extension agent could identify it. After four nights of handpicking, there were only 4 or 5 of them. I guess this particular bug problem is winding down for the season.
    Thank you,

  • michaelg

    Cathy, you approached the problem in a very intelligent way. You could check out hoplia beetles and see if they match. An organically acceptable solution could be sabadilla dust.

  • Field

    I've been growing roses in Dallas for 46 years, and I've never heard or seen anything like Cathy described, so I'd sure like to know what she finds out at the Tarrant County Cooperative Extension Service.

    And, Cathy, if you don't get any satisfaction there, try to contact Dr. Mike Merchant, the entomologist at the Dallas County Extension office on Coit Road, telephone 972-231-5362.

  • Shamarie1

    Those little brown beetles are what we call June bugs. don't know the scientific name for them, but, they have been around for as long as I can remember. I never knew either what was eating my rose bushes. till the other night, I had pretty much the same experience you did.
    and that's why I'm here also, trying to find a way to get rid of them. Good luck

  • TXcathy7b8a

    Field, I was glad to see your response to my bug problem. Thank you for your input. On your advice, I called Dr. Merchant and described my bugs. He has requested that I obtain some live ones to put in alcohol and mail to him for identification. I will do that this evening when they come out to feed.

    He also said that I should be able to get good control with an organic product made by Fertilome that contains Spinosad, a biological pesticide, that he reports to be as safe as Bt, but with longer lasting results. The Fertilome product is called Borer,Bagworm, Leafminer, Tent Caterpillar Spray. Dr. Merchant says it kills the leaf feeders after they ingest it, and is reported to work on beetles, too. He says it is also effective against thrips, but not aphids. He suggested that I look for this product at Ace Hardware and feed stores, as it is not carried by the big box stores.

    I will report back with the identity of the bugs when I get Dr. Merchant's report. I have included a link to an article written by Dr. Merchant about spinosad. The article is on controlling spring tree caterpillars, but the spinosad info applies to other garden leaf feeders as well.


    Here is a link that might be useful: Article by Dr. Merchant about spinosad

  • valentine

    My daughter had the same bugs on her roses recently and finally figured out they were flea beetles, more specifically, corn flea beetles, or at least they look exactly alike. The recommended solution was to spray Bioganic plant oil product directly on the bugs. The plant oil spray is organic, but is nonspecific, so it will kill soft bodied good bugs, as well as the bad. There is a website with pictures for you to look at: www.ent.iastate.edu/imagegal/coleoptera/fleabeetle/fleabeetlesonleaf.html.

    Please let me know if this helps.
    Kay in east Dallas

  • Field

    Shamariel, if you will read the description of these critters closely, you'll see they are much smaller than the June bugs we have up here in this part of the state since they're only 1/4 inch long. But maybe your hotter climate June bugs are dwarfs compared to ours.

  • TXcathy7b8a

    The photo in the link you posted looks like my beetles. I did some reading about corn flea beetles. The only thing that doesn't match up is the "jumping like fleas when disturbed" description that I read in several places. Having an inquisitive mind, I took a close look at a couple of the beetles the first night I picked them off my rose leaves. If I really provoked them, they would fly off, but that was the only thing they did other than slowly crawl. And it took a lot of messing with them to make them move much at all.

    Thank you for your input. Perhaps they are corn flea beetles and no one told them they could jump.


  • valentine

    In the beginning, my daughter didn't see any of the bugs jumping either. That, and the size of the pest, is what made us think at first that they were NOT flea beatles. Then she did more research and found that there are many kinds of flea beatles, and the corn flea beatle matched the size and appearance of her bugs exactly. She later told me that she had seen one or two that jumped, but most of them didn't try very hard to get away (they usually just slowly flew away or fell off the leaves when she disturbed them).

    My daughter is not available right now, but I'll get an update from her tomorrow. It's interesting that Field said he had never heard of anything like this bug in the 46 years he has been growing roses. I wonder if our unusual weather is bringing unusual problems.


  • valentine

    The update from my daughter is that the flea beatles are completely gone. I guess it was a seasonal infestation. They apparently did not appreciate the dose of Bioganic plant oils, either. Hope yours are gone as well.

  • Field

    They well could have been flea beetles. I've had a few of those, from time to time, but I've never seen the type of infestation you described, Cathy. I hope you managed to get some to Mike Merchant, so you (and we) can be certain of a diagnosis.

  • TXcathy7b8a

    I think the huge number of beetles is what freaked me out the most. This rose bed was newly planted earlier this spring. It is in the very back part of the backyard that was pretty shady until one of the neighbor's huge trees died last fall. Perhaps there have always been these beetles in that part of the yard, but it's previously been just grass, and if they were there, I didn't have a reason to notice them.

    I mailed sample bugs to Mike Merchant and am waiting to hear from him with an ID. I'll let y'all know what I find out.

    Thank you for all your interest and input.


  • TXcathy7b8a

    Today I received the written report on my mystery rose leaf eating beetles from TAMU entomologist Dr. Merchant.

    He says, "They are a beetle belonging to the genus Rhabdopterus (probably species picipes), sometimes called the cranberry rootworm. They are common feeders on holly, photinia, and other shrubs. This is the first example I've received from rose, so I will add that plant to my list of known host species. My recommendations for products to protect the plants should stay the same. Spinosad is probably the least toxic, effective product. Other residual insecticides such as cyfluthrin, permethrin, esfenvalerate or Sevin should also work. Damage from these insects principally occurs in spring, so chances are that spraying will not be required for long."

    So, now we know! :) Interesting that my yard has hollies and other shrubs that were not touched by the beetles. They only munched on the rose leaves. Perhaps the little buggars have Newbie Rose Grower radar, and knew I was investing a good deal of emotional energy in my little roses, thus wanton feeding on rose leaves would cause considerable consternation. ;)

    Field, thank you for your most excellent suggestion to contact Dr. Merchant. I am saving his contact info for any other mystery critters. And thank all of you kind folks who attempted to help me identify these beetles. I appreciate your interest and suggestions. You can bet I'll continue reading on this forum and soaking up the information you all share. And someday when I get enough organic rose growing hours under my belt to have something worthwhile to contribute, I'll chime in.


  • Field

    Thank you, Cathy, for following through on this. Like you and Mike, I have never heard of this pest attacking roses. But it's something else to watch out for now.

    BTW, please stay away from the Sevin. It's extremely toxic to bees, and we need all of those we can get.

  • TXcathy7b8a

    Don't worry about the Sevin. Wouldn't use it. I purchased the spinosad and fully intended to use it after my first phone conversation with Mike. But I decided to use this first year growing roses as a learning experience and see how long the beetles were gonna hang around to see if spraying for them was warranted. I continued hand picking them each night for almost 2 weeks. I am leaning toward spraying with spinosad next spring if I have another large infestation. If just a few show up, the roses and I will just shrug them off.

  • crobin333

    I have these same bugs in SC on a rose bush I just recently planted (approx 2 months ago). Noticed the eaten holes in all of my new growth and couldnt figure it out, especially since I have other roses that are years old that have not and do not have the infestation. A friend at work referred to them as cutter bugs, but I couldnt find any information on that. I looked at the pictures in the links provided and whamoo- that was them.
    They definately dont jump or move when I get near to remove them- I actaully thought they were dead inside the roses which is where they end up each afternoon. Actually removing and laying them on the driveway, teh little thing didnt move at all. All of the blooms are just horrible as they have damaged the leaves as well as the blooms. Mhy plant is a yellow rose, wonder of they care about color since they are found on corn as well?
    Hope you all are still reading this, its been a couple of weeks since any one posted.

  • msrose

    I know this is an old post but I just found it and I think you helped me identify my problem. The roses in my backyard are fine but I have one in the front yard that's covered in crescent shaped holes. I was researching the cranberry rootworm just to see what it looked like and discovered that they leave this type of leaf damage. Is this what your leaves looked like?


    Here is a link that might be useful: {{gwi:1231375}}

  • tbanks_fox-net_net

    I also have at the present time beetles eating on my roses but these are mostly concerned with eating the blooms (as we have not had a hard frost here yet,78 for a high today), than the leaves and they resemble lady bugs except they are greenish yellow with black spots, anyone know what they are, and what to spray them with. Thanks

  • LizzieA

    Accrding to this website it's Western Spotted Cucumber Beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata undecimpunctata).

    Here is a link that might be useful: Seattle Rose Society

  • loree_2008

    I recently planted a rose bush in a container following my mothers funeral.I too have problems with those bugs. Due to me being on a very constricting budget, is there any household item that can be used on these bugs? I wondered if vinegar, Listerine etc. would work.
    Thanks in advance for any help!!!

  • thelagirl

    I am so happy to have found this information. Although it may be too late to save my roses, I will know in future what to do. My roses are Antiques, at least to me, as I have had them growing on this place for over 17 years. It will break my heart if they do not survive. Any suggestions to help them out? This is the first time that a phenomenon like this has developed. I do not go to my "rose" garden each day, so was horrified to find almost all the leaves from all but one rose "GONE". My mocking birds who have nested in this trellis for at least four seasons were very distraught at the nakedness of their home.

  • Thomas_Lara_a_yahoo_com

    If you're on a budget and looking for a homemade pesticide I have yet to find a bug or insect that sticks around if you spray "nicotine water." Find a friend or neighbor that smokes and supply them with a large glass juice jar. Ask if they mind keeping some water in it and then use the jar for their butts, when done smoking a cigarette. When you have a fair number of old smoked butts, add a bit more water. If you don't dilute it to at least pale tea color, your roses won't tolerate it, either. Stretch an old sock or nylon over the spout to strain the water out for use in a spray bottle. Sometimes I add more water and can get a second batch out of the butts. Add the strained dark water to a spray bottle and spray onto your Japanese beetles, aphids, what-have-you. They will NOT be happy. Those that don't die make for less "smoky" bushes. I reapply every few days/weeks but just monitor your rose bush as well. To much and you can kill/wither leaves. Cigarettes really do kill. :)

  • Sherilee2222

    I have a row of knock outs along sidewalk for privacy hedge as well as about 20 on each side of my front door. The first few years they were great. This year they are being attacked by some bugs and spots at the same time. Calloways said spray for MITES so i bought pesticide for beetles & mites, etc., but it's not working. Also bought fish oil & seaweek for fertilizer. Then tried Dawn mixed with oil to try to chase the bugs off but am out of ideas and I have about l00 knock-outs going down fast! Help! Any other ideas? (I see sack worms on a pine tree close by and have sprayed for those too! Are they the varmits on my roses? I can't see any bugs, just holes and then stripped bushes! Any help appreciated. Sheri/DFW area

  • strawchicago

    I found this link that might help:

    Posted by gardenguru1950 SunsetZ16 (My Page) on Sat, Aug 8, 09 at 13:06

    The most common "eater" of rose leaves in California is the Bristly Rose Slug, the larvae of the Rose Sawfly. The sawfly is a pudgy little wasp. It lays its eggs on the UNDERSIDES of the leaves and the caterpillars feed on the UNDERSIDES of the leaves.
    The rose slug is tiny, no more than 1/4-inch long and very slender, and it's the exact same pale green as the undersides of the leaves. Talk about hard to see and find!

    It's the critter that "skelotinizes" rose leaves.

    It's pretty easy to get rid of, actually. Almost any good spray will do the job: insecticidal soap, Neem, pyrethrum. The trick is to spray thoroughly UNDER the leaves. Not stand back and spray all over. You have to get UNDER the leaves.

    By the way, a commonly suggested spray for rose sawfly is BT. It doesn't work. It doesn't work because it's meant for the caterpillars of moths and butterflies. The rose slug is the larvae of a wasp.

    And I'm not sure of any beneficial insect that preys upon it.

    As for your rose buds, Applenut has a good idea. Go outside late at night with a flashlight. The critter most likely is an earwig, sowbug or pillbug. It also might be a slug or snail.


    Here is a link that might be useful: Bugs that eat roses' leaves

  • strawchicago

    Another person posted that Wasps can be useful. Wasps also ate all the thrips in my rose garden. I don't spray with any chemicals, so there are plenty of wasps here. I got bitten by wasp only once in my 12 years in this garden.

    Posted by greenhaven N Illinois 4b-5a (My Page) on Fri, Jul 3, 09 at 7:37

    glaserberl, the implication is that rose slugs can be extremely difficult to see, especially ehen they are yound. They start out so tiny and so perfectly green that it can be a miracle to see them. But the damage the do is disproportionate to their size. One or two can rip through a bush in no time flat.
    If your roses are not too prickly try "stroking" the chewed leaves, with especial pressure to the undersides. Likely you will feel them as they get squished; and squishing is the best way to eliminate them, even if it would be difficult on a climber.

    Wasps are natural predators, so discouraging wasps hunting aorund your roses is ENcouraging rose slugs. Insecticidal soaps can work, but they take up to 24 hours to work and you do risk collateral damage to your "good" bugs, especially honeybees that should be protected at what might sometimes seem like ridiculous cost.

  • 1Jacqueline50

    Leafcutter Bees are making those smooth semicircular cut about 3/4-in in diameter on the edge of leaves.

    Read the link I have attached to the follow-up.

    Here is a link that might be useful: Leafcutter Bees

  • 1Jacqueline50

    Here is a short video and a few photos of the Leafcutter Bee.

    Here is a link that might be useful: Leafcutter Bee Video

  • R Walsh

    They're not Japanese Beetles, they're not leaf cutter bees, not sluggish, not wasps....they are exactly as Cathy (sorry my phone thinks it's helping me tell you what i want to say) describes. Cathy, you're spot on in describing these bugs and their actions but I've found they prefer to hang out inside the buds. The buds and full flowers seem to be sucked dry because they end up looking like, not just wilted flowers but more like they've been scorched. I'm sorry, I live in Kansas City MO but just moved from CA. I have never seen these bugs before and I thought we had every bug known to man in CA! This bug is a new one to me and I'd love to know how to get rid of it! So please advise if you've had any luck. They've only been hanging around for a month now.

  • strawchicago

    Thanks for those great pics! They look similar to Japanese beetles .. there are many varieties of them. For Japanese beetles, I use these traps sold on Amazon for $9.29 and place traps FAR AWAY from my roses. Worked great, killed dozens of them and fed to the birds. It might work for other beetles.


  • Anna

    I have this one. He is a regular quest in my garden . One time I brought him home inside my John P II . He was hiding in the middle of the petals.

  • strawchicago

    Anna: That's a beautiful green- beetle. Looks like the green June beetle (fig beetle) in the below link. I love your photos of pretty flowers & green beetle:


  • Anna

    Straw: I like this comment (... " in the morning they fly around like crazy helicopters trying to bomb you and sometimes they do. The do NOT seem to know where they are going and often run into things, like my head, for instance" ..) That's so true ;)

  • strawchicago

    That's funny !!

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