There are a lot of different insects with names that sound fairly alarming: cutworms, fungus gnats, and blister beetles, for example. The lace bug is not one of those with a very alarming name—and yet, it can sometimes be quite the ornamental plant pest. Keep reading to learn how to spot lace bug damage and how to tell if the pesky pests you’re dealing with in your landscape are lace bugs or something else.

lace bug

What do lace bugs look like?

Lace bugs are small pests, usually growing only up to one third of an inch. While there are several different species of lace bugs—usually with names corresponding to those plants that they like to feed on—there are a few physical characteristics that all lace bugs share. Their most distinguishing physical trait is one that helps to explain their common name. The tops of their wings and thorax have a distinct lace-like appearance. This is caused by a pattern of irregular, semi-transparent cells. Their bodies are mostly a light color such as white with some dark markings.

Lace bug nymphs, on the other hand, do not have wings and thus are lacking the very distinct lace-like pattern. Instead, they have a spiny and flatter oval-shaped body. Lace bug nymphs are also darker than their adult counterparts.

How can you identify lace bug damage?

While not all lace bugs are considered pests, there are many that can be. As mentioned before, specific species of lace bugs tend to be associated only with the plants they feed on, such as the azalea lace bug or the hawthorn lace bug, and often won’t feed on other types of plants. Like many other pests that feed on plants, lace bugs mostly feed on the chlorophyll and nutrients located within a plants’ leaves. In order to extract these nutrients, lace bugs use their sharp mouth parts to pierce a leaf, and then will subsequently suck the chlorophyll and other nutrients out of it. The damage has a skeletonized lace look. Commonly, lace bug damage is most noticeable in the middle of summer or in later summer. This is also when lace bug populations will be at their largest.

Lace bug damage is not usually enough to kill a plant. For strong, established trees and shrubs, they’re usually able to withstand any lace bug damage without a problem. Even so, lace bugs can cause aesthetic damage, which many gardeners, understandably, want to avoid. There are several signs that you can use to help identify lace bug damage, including:
  1. Small mottled spots on the surface of leaves, that are usually a whitish or yellowish color
  2. If heavy feeding occurs, leaves may drop off prematurely or be severely discolored
  3. Clusters of both adult lace bugs and lace bug nymphs on the underside of leaves
  4. Small, dark droppings on the underside of leaves
  5. Molted exoskeletons and cast skins that are still attached to plant foliage

What are some other landscape pests?

Lace bugs aren’t the only landscape pests that you could come across. In fact, there are several other common pests that like to make a meal of garden plants, including:
  1. Aphids
  2. Leafhoppers
  3. Carpenter ants
  4. Many different species of beetles, such as the southern pine beetle
  5. And many others

Dealing with some garden pests and indoor plant pests is not always difficult. But others, like the lace bug, can get a little tricky especially when they’re able to establish colonies and infestations in large numbers. Often, this means that the most effective treatment will involve pesticides. That’s when it may be time to call in a professional.