Saturday, July 13, 2013

To Trap or Not To Trap

I hope that Shakespeare will forgive me for my corruption of his prose, but that is the million roses question, isn't it?  Conventional wisdom holds that the use of Japanese Beetle-specific traps will increase beetle damage on plants adjacent to the trap sites.  You can find that "wisdom" repeated everywhere, Extension articles, Internet blogs, over and over, accepted and final.

Well friends, ProfessorRoush had a mentor who once said to me "If I wrote that the sky is green in a book chapter of an authoritative text, in 10 years the entire world would be repeating that the sky is green."  Phrases like "conventional wisdom" just raise my hackles, because if we've learned anything from the past millennium, it's that "conventional wisdom" often isn't worth a darn.  If we followed "conventional wisdom," all maps would still be Flat Earth-oriented, we would still believe the Sun revolved around the Earth, the New World would never have been discovered and I wouldn't be trying to garden in the hell-hole of Kansas.

In the throes of anguish that Japanese Beetles have finally reached Manhattan, Kansas, I set out to look at some of the actual research behind the no-trap recommendation, and I can already tell you that the question is far from settled.  Most of the statements that Japanese Beetle-specific traps increase plant damage and don't affect beetle numbers are referenced back to two papers in the Journal of Economic Entomology, 1985 and 1986, authored by F. Carter Gorden and Daniel A. Potter from the University of Kentucky.  The papers indeed reach the referenced conclusions, but if you examine the materials and methods of their research you'll discover the interesting fact that they placed their traps at 1.2 meters above the ground in both studies.  I already knew that a more recent study, by Alm in 1996,  found that a height of 13 cm above the ground was the most efficient trap height, which just happens to also be the average height that Japanese Beatles fly around a garden.  The 1985 and 1986 papers, for those metrically-disadvantaged, had their traps at 120 cm, so, in essence, they were expecting these lumbering insectoid rocks to find the traps approximately 10 times farther off the ground than they normally fly.  Thus science advances gardening.

 I also reviewed a 1998 Journal of Arboriculture paper by Wawrzynski and Ascerno that found that mass trapping over 15 acre area caused a 97% reduction in Japanese Beetles within 4 years.  Consequently, I really question if "conventional wisdom" hasn't been keeping gardeners from using the best tools for this particular job.   Commercial traps that use both floral attractants and pheromone lures are demonstrably effective, and the one pictured here is readily available and performed pretty well in a 2003 report by Alm and Dawson. 

What does that mean for ProfessorRoush's garden?  It means that I'm going to buck the conventional wisdom and trap the bodacious beetles out of my garden for a couple of years to see if I can slow down the Beetle Invasion (For baby boomers, I'm referencing the current Japanese Beetle Invasion as opposed to the 1960's Beatles invasion of the U.S.A).  Based on the research available, I will place my traps as close as possible to the recommended 13 cm height and I will place them at least 30 feet away from the nearest important plant so as not to attract beetles right onto my roses.  I will empty the traps regularly so the dead beetle stench doesn't drive others away and I will make sure the lures stay attached.  I'll let you know how it goes.

I've already caught three hard-shelled fiends that won't be breeding little beetles for next year.  I hope that it is simple logic.  Less breeding, less beetles, more roses.


  1. I agree with your reasoning - any dead Japanese beetle is one more that doesn't reproduce. Good luck with the trapping.

    1. As of this morning, I can see several at the bottom of each trap. I'll count them up someday. I've only found one on the roses since I started trapping.

  2. Please please please take those traps down. I am speaking from personal decades long experience. yes, you will trap a lot of beetles, and yes, if you cover your entire neighborhood with those traps you MIGHT make a dent, and yes, a dead people can't reproduce. BUT, you will attract many more beetles to your yard that will lay eggs in the ground before they find your trap. You will see beetle numbers getting increasingly worse until you stop using the traps. Please, believe us Midwestern gardeners, we have learned this hard truth years ago. These traps are nothing more than a very successful marketing ploy, they do far more damage than they do good. Of course, it is your yard and your choices, just don't say we didn't warn you.

    In my Indiana garden I found Milky spores applied for three years in a row much more efficient. I just saw my very first, lonely Japanese beetle, in the middle of July, where in years past they would have devoured the white hibiscus flowers and second flush or roses by now. Good luck, my friend!


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