Pest to watch (out for): Red lily beetle.

Yesterday, one of my library co-workers came to me and in appropriately hushed, but slightly panicked tones, told me about some beetle-esque critters that appeared to be munching on her tiger lilies, which are just emerging from their winter slumber.  “They look like ladybugs,” she said, “until you get up close.  They don’t have any spots on them.”   Uh oh, I thought.

(Click here for photo).

This is the dreaded red (scarlet) lily beetle (Lilioceris lilii – isn’t that the best scientific name ever???  Well, next to Bison bison, that is).  A little longer and a little boxier than the cute, rounded lady beetle, red lily beetles are not spotted like the beneficial bugs.  We never used to have them in Alberta, but apparently they hitched a ride on some lily bulbs brought in from other regions and now we’re beset by the things.  Grrrrrr.  Unfortunately, according to Sara Williams and Hugh Skinner’s excellent resource, Gardening, Naturally:  A Chemical-Free Handbook for the Prairies (essential reading for Prairie gardeners), these nasty eating machines have no natural predators in North America, so they’re pretty much free to run rampant over our gardens, taking out our lilies and Fritillaria at will, as well as threatening wild lily species.   (They will also attack Solomon’s seal and lily of the valley, but don’t fret about your daylilies…Hemerocallis are safe from the marauding red horde.  Not from jackrabbits, mind you, but that’s a story for another day…).  Apparently certain parasitic wasps are used as controls in Europe and we are starting to see some of them here in Canada, which offers hope.

So, what can we do to prevent an infestation?  First off, if you get any lily bulbs, inspect both the bulbs and the soil they are potted up in for signs of red lily beetle – either the bright red adults, larvae or eggs.  The larvae is yellow-orange in colour and is usually covered in goopy black frass (bug poop.  Hope you’re not eating anything right now), while the orange eggs are small and round.   Hand-pick adult beetles and larvae and destroy them by dumping them in a bucket of soapy water.  (Make sure you have a lid for the bucket to trap escapees!). Williams and Skinner recommend that you don’t buy lilies that are potted in soil to begin with, but they say that if you take the bulbs out and soak them in bleach (the exact amounts and procedure are in the book), you can probably get rid of the beetles.

Throughout the spring and summer, make sure you stay on top of things!  Sadly, it may become a full-time job if you have a lot of lilies!  The City of Calgary also suggests using diatomaceous earth as a means of successfully desiccating the critters.  Bear in mind that red lily beetles are excellent fliers – after they’re done eating your neighbour’s lilies, they may latch onto yours (even mature plantings that were safe when you put them in years ago).  Be vigilant…and good luck!!!!

Have you had any trouble with red lily beetles in your garden?  What did you do to combat them?

Post updated: May 2018.


  1. We have found a couple dozen of them already. The lilies were barely pushing out of the ground. We go out every day to pick off any adults and search for eggs. We thought by cutting down the infested plants last fall and destroying them we had controlled the population however they must have hibernated in the soil as they are out to ravage my beautiful lily bounty once again. I will persist and destroy to the best of my abilities.

    • Oh no, you have them, too! I so hate to hear that! Apparently they do overwinter in the soil and in leaf litter, and I guess because we had such a mild winter, there will probably be more of them than usual this year. My co-worker intends to take the drastic measure of digging up her plants (she only has a few) to inspect the bulbs; she was going to pour boiling water down the planting holes and then replant the lilies. I wonder if that will work. I really hope you can fight them off and your lilies will be safe!!

  2. we are also infested with them here in little Rhode Island i have been spraying with rose spray horrible liitle things

  3. My mother in law has lost her lilies the past two years to these things. I didn’t know what they were at first. And I most definitely didn’t know they hibernated in the soil. I’ll have to look up a remedy for these little buggers. Great pics. Maybe I can identify them for her before they emerge this year. Thanks for a great post, and for stopping by my blog.

    • Likewise; thank you so much for checking out Flowery Prose! 🙂 I do hope your mother-in-law’s lily plants are safe this year – these beetles are causing problems everywhere!

  4. Re: (Lilioceris lilii – isn’t that the best scientific name ever???)

    It’s a good one! but my vote for ultimate scientific name is Troglodytes troglodytes (Eurasian wren). What a name for such a tiny bird with such a gorgeous song!

  5. these beetles are miserable! when i first moved into my house 6 years ago, there was no sign of them. in 2009 they nearly wiped out my entire tiger lily patch. i read that Captain Jacks Dead Bug Brew (organic) kills them, so i armed myself with this in large supply the following year. because they overwinter in the soil, i didn’t get them all. starting this spring, i pre-emptively sprayed every area that harbored them. after every rain, i’d go out and spray the areas again. my lilies are just blooming now, and i have only a few of the dreaded beetles. the areas that i neglected to spray, have been destroyed (they ate all the leaves). i am going to start using diatomaceous earth for the rest of the summer in hopes that it will once and for all get rid of the varmints.

    • Oh, what a horrible thing! I really hope the diatomaceous earth works for you, you (and your lilies) deserve a break from these fiends.

  6. My friend next door who’s in her 80 tis bless saw my lovely display of Lilly’s last year and bought some in a pot and iv got my very first infestation of these pesky Beatles but hopefully il get rid by next year

    • Oh, I do hope you won’t have problems with them again! Thanks so much for stopping by my blog! Please let me know how things turn out with your lilies next year.

  7. We have just found heaps of these red beetles on our lilies. I wondered why my lilies were poor this season. i thought they were old and needed replacing but alas it was the dreaded red lily beetle. I’m going to take my lilies out and repot cleaning each one with care. I choose to grow them in pots because of my small garden. We live near Liverpool in UK so every one is suffering these pests all over. Well hope they have gone when we come over to Canada for a visit next year

    • Oh, it really does seem like these beetles can be found all over the world – that’s horrible! They are so destructive! I hope you’re successfully able to battle them – do keep me posted (if you think of it) on how things go. Thanks so much for stopping by my blog, I appreciate it! 🙂

  8. These are horrible pests; the slightly good news is that they prefer certain lillies over others. In my garden they LOVE Madona Lillies but will also attack others. I’ve not heard of the paracitic wasp, I’ll have to look into that. My method of control is my husbamd! He goes around the garden picking off the beetles and squishing them – I use gloves but it is really important to remove what looks like the poo, the lavae in inside it, munching away. Christina

    • I would definitely need a knight in shining armour (read: my hubby) to do any bug-squishing for me as well – I couldn’t handle it! 😉 Yes, you’re right – that’s a great point to make – you have to get the frass and the larvae in it as well as the adults.

  9. The larva look like dried boogers. Just had to share that. I used to be an elementary school teacher 😉

  10. I discovered these beetles in my garden this spring and didn’t know what they were. Then at the end of June I saw a news item on tv about them. By that time it was too late. My lillies are destroyed. I had a few hundred lillies and now they are destroyed. I have been squishing beetles every day and getting covered in larvae ( yes I wear gloves), but I can’t keep up with the infestation. It is heart breaking because I had a wonderful garden. I just don’ t have the time to kill bugs every day. So, I’ m giving up and will be destroying all my lillies and switch my garden to a totally different type of plant. Aggghhhhhh!!!!

  11. These beetles are the scourge of my garden. I always see them at spring time, eating the leaves then the flowers of our lilies. They look pretty though – but that is not enough to get any leniency from me. 🙂

    • I’ve been hearing reports of them all over northern Alberta now – not good. Thanks for your comment, I appreciate it! It may be valuable for me to revisit this subject and write a new post. I hope you’ll be able to manage the beetles and not lose any of your plants!

  12. I have (had) an amazing array of lilies, several hundred in 2 gardens in my yard here in Calgary, AB. I’ve had the lillies for 14 years with no bugs, I’m wondering if these little buggers didn’t find their way into my garden on some new bulbs I purchased this year.

    The lillies in one garden are much more decimated, not sure why that is. Both my asiatics and orientals have been destroyed but so far the day lilies are ok.

    There are way too many bugs to squish as people have suggested.
    I have spread neem and will continue to do so. I have sprayed with Dr. Doom and will keep up with regular applications til fall – has anyone had luck with Dr. Doom?
    Has anyone had luck with diatomaceous earth. I see that is what the city is using in thier gardens.

    • I live just outside of Edmonton, Alberta and notice these red lily beetles in summer of 2014. I tried Melethion and it did not work and
      they are in my lilies in May/2015. It is easy to keep brushing hand over 4″ stems and you will eventually see these 5-6mm long bright red beetles, unless they fall off the leaves as will land on the red back and there stomach is black so hard to spot once they hit the dirt.
      I pick them up and squish between 2 rocks. You can also find them in the bottom leaves where the leaf meets the stem.

      A greenhouse near Sherwood Park, Alberta told me to use Doktor Doom Commercial Long Lasting Surface Residual Insect Killer with .50% permethrin on label and to spray at least 18 inches from lilies so the spray does not freeze the leaves and kill the plants. They also said to use Diatomaceous Earth in the soil around the plants as it will cut and kill the larvae/eggs. I will be applying these two products to my many lilies tomorrow and hope like heck this works. Last year one of my 2 x 2 foot lily plants was eaten completely with only the 1 main stock left! I also read online that I should use this Doktor Doom .50% permethrin every week from early spring as soon as the plant emerges from the soil until fall, great!!

      • Thank you both for your comments! Day lilies will not be affected by red lily beetles (there’s a gall midge that is causing problems with day lilies, but that’s another story). The red lily beetles will overwinter in soil; they may also come in on bulbs purchased in the store.

        Great tips from Bonnie! – I hope you have much success with the Doktor Doom product. Diatomaceaous earth is commonly recommended in addition to removal by hand. It may be necessary to try all these things at once over several seasons – as the beetles may make return visits if they are chowing down on your neighbour’s plants as well.

        Good luck to everyone battling these pests.

  13. My mother in law came over and dug up all my large infected hy asiatic lilies(I had maybe 25)and took them to her place(hers were already infected) she has thousands(maybe hundreds)of plants. She seems able to keep up to killing them by hand. They only seem to damage 20-30% of her plants leaves. On mine they completely destroyed all the foliage that I didn’t, pretty much leaving flowers alone. There must be something growing or eating and chasing them away in her yard don’t know what. It gave me more room to plant more native plants so I no longer care. There are a few pips(?) left in my yard. Exited to see what the beetles decide to attack now that the Lilies are gone(maybe hostas) have heard they will attack other things in absence of lilies, still gotta eat right? I am now ordering day Lilies. – Cory Z.

    • They are truly destructive, and will indeed attack other plants besides lilies. I am always so sad to hear that someone must give up their collection of lilies due to infestation.

      Enjoy the growth of your native plant garden – a positive initiative! Thanks so much for your valuable comments and have a great weekend!

  14. These beetles obviously are mostly coming from less reliable sources such as big box stores where the average employee probably wouldn’t know or care what they are and whose bosses would be more concerned with selling them as opposed to destroying or doing the extra work to return. All mine came from what I believe we’re reliable sources which were ordered from people dedicated to the plant which support their lively hood. I grew these for years before being affected. Please limit the amount of non native plants you buy from these big box stores. Stick with reliable seed sources and you can select plant varieties which are more hardy and grow them yourself. Certainly diseases and such can be passed through seeds but should be much more limited. If your just growing for beauty try to stick to more native plants. I do grow non-native myself , but as I learn to be a more responsible gardener I am limiting these actions.

  15. By the time I realized the little read beetles weren’t beneficial I had a full-on infestation. I cut my entire lily bed back ten days ago and have been vigilant, inspecting the bed as often as I can and dropping each beetle into soapy water. I started keeping track after the third day and so far, I’ve removed between 10 and 25 beetles every day! 152 and counting!! Wish me luck. I want to win this one.

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