Lace Bugs: What Are They And How To Get Rid Of Them

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Do your plants suffer from the plague of lace bugs? If you notice reddish-orange spots on the undersides of some of the leaves of your shrubs and trees – probably!

These very small insects are everywhere and are mostly found on leaf surfaces. The lace bug can simply destroy the appearance of your plants.

lace bug up closePin
Sycamore lace bug | Forest & Kim Starr

In this article, we will describe and discuss what are lace bugs, lace bug treatment, and advice on ridding your yard and garden of these troublesome pests. Read on to learn more.

Lace Bugs Are Ubiquitous

So, what is a lace bug?

The lace bug, also known as lace beetle, hails from the family Tingidae, and within that family, you’ll find many different species of lace bugs.

They develop through three life stages – starting from an egg to a nymph and then an adult. A lace bug’s life cycle takes about 30 to 40 days to complete, and several generations may occur each year. 

Close-up of a lacewing insect, detailed texture visible.Pin

What do lace bugs look like?

Lace bugs are small, winged insects that are typically around 1/8 inch long. 

They have a flattened body shape and are often black or dark brown, although some species may have markings or patterns on their wings. 

Lace bugs are known for their delicate, lacy wings that give them their name. Their wings are partially transparent and have a network of veins resembling lace.

Each type is a specialist, such as a sycamore lace bug that only eats the undersides of the sycamore plant leaves.

Other specific lacebugs that only eat a certain hosts plant include:

  • Eggplant
  • Avocado lacebug
  • Azalea shrubs (Azalea Lace Bugs)
  • Poplar
  • Willow
  • Alder
  • Birch
  • Ash
  • Lantana
  • Oak lace bugs
  • Hawthorn lace bug
  • Chrysanthemum lace bug 

These are just examples, to name a few.

The list goes on and on to include a wide variety of plants, shrubs, and bushes.

The various species are typically named after the type of plant they consume. Luckily, dealing with lace wig bug successfully uses similar methods for their control.

How Do You Know If Lace Bugs Are Causing The Problem?

Lace bugs go through three life stages. They go from eggs to nymphs to adults and all on the bottom sides of plant leaves.

Adult lace bug females lay very tiny, oblong eggs in the tissue of a leaf surface. The lace bug eggs hatch into nymphs that shed their skins about five times before becoming adults and starting the cycle again.

These cast skins also remain attached to the plant’s foliage.

So, what does a lace bug look like?

It’s easy to identify these little devils. Even adult lace bugs are extremely tiny.

In fact, they never exceed 1/8″ inch long. Winged adults look “lacy” with tiny, clear cells covering the thorax and wings.

The wingless lace bug nymphs, dark in color and oval in shape, are even smaller than adults.

You can find both nymphs and adults clustered on the underside of leaves on your shrubs, bushes, and other plants.

You know you are dealing with lace bugs when you look at the lower sides of your plant leaves and see dark, shiny spots, tiny black bugs, and tiny, fly-like insects with lacy wings.

What Do Lace Bugs Do?

Both nymphs and adult lace bugs suck the fluid from plants (like the plant scale bugs and spider mites) through the undersides of the leaves.

This interferes with photosynthesis and causes stippling and discoloration of the leaf. You will usually see this severe damage to the leaf tissue in the later weeks of summer.

Before the damage occurs, you may notice dark, shiny excrement spots on the undersides of your plant’s leaves or even on the upper leaf surface. This can drip onto the ground beneath the plants in very heavy infestations.

When you see these symptoms, you can be fairly certain that you are dealing with lace bugs on plants; however, some other types of pests also cause this kind of damage.

Among them are the following:

  • Mites
  • Thrips
  • True bugs
Lacewing bug on a leaf, detailed wings, nature theme.Pin
Photo Credit: Instagram @jack_kh._loo

If uncertain, use a magnifying glass to examine the damage and look for clues. If spider mites cause the infestation, the dark, shiny droppings will not be present.

Additionally, mites cast webs and shed their skin with great frequency. Therefore, you will see tiny mite skins cast about with a spider mite infestation.

Now you might wonder, are lace bugs harmful to humans?

Lace bugs do not harm humans and are typically not a problem for indoor plants. Lace bugs do not bite humans or animals. 

Rather, lace bugs are strictly plant feeders and only use their piercing-sucking mouthparts to extract sap from leaves, stems, and buds that cause cosmetic damage to plants. 

Damages include yellow or white stippling on leaves, evidence of leaf curl, browning of leaves during active growth, and premature leaf drop.

Will Lace Bug Damage Kill My Plants?

Here’s how to get rid of lace bugs.

Lace bug damage is unsightly but not fatal.

Your plants, shrubs, and trees will have an unattractive appearance due to the discoloration of the leaf and the dark, ugly spotting, but they will not die.

If your plants suffer heavy infestation for a long time, the lace bug damage could result in premature leaf drop.

This can cause a reduction in fruit production for some types of trees. Also, a shortage of leaves can allow the sun to damage the fruit.

The Best Defense Is A Good Offense!

You cannot undo the damage caused by lace bugs, but there are lots of ways to get rid of the bugs so the new growth can come in undisturbed next spring.

Keeping plants strong and healthy will help repel the pests and prevent infestation.

Here’s how to get rid of lacewings naturally:

#1 – Attract Natural Predators!

You don’t really need to eradicate lace bugs to keep the damage under control completely.

Cultivating a good population of desirable fauna in your garden will help. Lace bugs have a number of natural enemies, including:

Here’s a more detailed look at how these natural predators and parasites help gardeners combat lace bug infestation.

Ladybug species feed on lace bugs and other insects that destroy plants.

Pirate Bugs, another natural enemy of lace bugs measuring about 1/5 inch in length, love feeding on other insects and the eggs of their prey and are probably the most beneficial insects for controlling lace bug infestation.

They use their beak or proboscis to pierce the bodies of their victims and suck out their fluids, causing death.

Although very beneficial for controlling lace bug infestation, be careful when using them since ornamental plants, shrubs, corn, small grains, and growing tomato plants attract them.

They can feed on the juices and pollen of the susceptible plants they favor in your garden. Luckily, this only happens when prey is unavailable.

On another note, pirate bugs can bite humans during late summer, and the bites are said to be rather painful.

The presence of pirate bugs is seasonal, and many homeowners prefer using them in the springtime when the lace bugs cause the greatest damage.

Predatory Mites love consuming harmful plant-eating insects such as lace bugs.

However, unlike pirate bugs, they don’t damage plants or bite humans. Related to ticks and spiders, they look nearly identical to spider mites.

Predatory mites use tiny mouthparts that extend from the top of their pear-shaped bodies to attack, pierce, and kill their prey.

Typically, predatory mites will disperse once they finish consuming all the available prey.

Lacewing Larvae can ruthlessly destroy many of the bugs in your garden by injecting venom and sucking fluid from their victims.

A handful of lacewing larvae like these can aid in controlling lace bug infestation and protect the garden from various other insects, including controlling aphids.

Lacewing larvae can consume up to 200 plant-eating bugs every week, making them highly beneficial insects.

Assassin Bugs are typically brown, reddish, or black bugs and usually measure about 0.75 inches when mature. These predators feed on insects, but some assassin bug species feed on mammals’ blood.

While adult assassin bugs may not be the best of fliers, they can sufficiently stalk lace bug prey.

Once assassin bugs contact lace bugs or other insects, such as caterpillars or aphids, they inject them with deadly venom.

Attract these beneficial allies to your garden; you will need little or no pesticides.

#2 – Plant With Care!

Planning carefully when planting your yard and garden will also help prevent lace bug infestation. Examples of good planning include:

Don’t plant a mono-crop. Instead, plant a wide variety of plants, shrubs, and ornamental trees and mix them up so that lace bugs will not have a chance to become firmly established.

Avoid planting in very hot, dry, sunny areas, as this is where lace bugs thrive. Instead, try to choose landscape plants that like partial shade and position them so that your plants receive light shade or afternoon shade every day.

Be sure your plants are well watered, and moisten the soil by applying mulch.

Prevent lace bugs from taking hold in the springtime by examining your plants late in the winter. If you notice any lace bug presence, take action to eradicate them before they can begin reproducing.

Getting Rid Of Lace Bugs

The lace bug critters can be very hard to get rid of because they are capable of over-wintering on their host plants in a number of ways.

  • Adults can hide out under bark plates.
  • Eggs and adults may find shelter in debris and fallen leaves under host plants.
  • Nymphs and adults infesting an evergreen plant can handily survive a mild winter.
  • Eggs inserted into evergreen plant tissues can survive winter and hatch in the springtime.

There are many natural ways to tackle lace bugs, and it’s a good idea to practice them all the time.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when dealing with these tenacious little invaders. 

Intricate lacewing larvae on bark.Pin
Photo Credit: Instagram @thenaturewolf

Here are a few smart biological lace bug control or natural ideas you can try:

#1 – Knock them off with water. Early in the spring, give the undersides of your plant leaves a good dousing with the garden hose. A forceful spray will knock off nymphs and adults and wash the unsightly droppings off your plants’ leaves.

#2 – Prune vigorously and dispose of the cut leaves properly. After washing down your plants, cut off damaged leaves and seal them up in a plastic bag to be taken away with the trash.

#3 – Rake up debris, leaves, and old mulch from beneath affected plants and dispose of it properly. Replace it with sterile commercial mulch or mulch not made from a plant that attracts lace bugs.

#4 – Choose plants that will do well in your location. While it may be tempting to plant unusual and exotic plant types, this is asking for lace bug problems.

Healthy, hardy, native, and naturalized plants that easily thrive in your conditions are far more likely to fight off lace bugs.

#5 – Cull out poor-performing plants and replace them with hardier varieties.

#6 – If you have plants severely affected last spring, between December and February, keep the ground beneath them bare and clean.

Rake up leaves, debris, and mulch and cultivate the soil several times during these late winter months. This will expose and kill any eggs, nymphs, or adults lurking in the soil.

Keep A Strong Cadre Of Friendly Fauna

Take great care when using broad-spectrum insecticides, as these products will kill off your friendly fauna. For example, if you kill lace bug predators, you will soon be dealing with a spider mite infestation.

Keeping a healthy population of natural predators in the landscape is important in the long-term pest control of many different undesirable insects.

Lacewing insect on a plant, zoomed in, detailed textures.Pin
Photo Credit: Instagram @adamcohen1885

If natural predators cannot keep up with the lace bug infestation, use only a non-persistent, contact insecticide treatment.

Apply these types of products directly and carefully to the heavy infestation of lace bugs. Then, their short-term actions will have an effect on your beneficial fauna.

Some of the best products to use include:

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Spray the undersides of leaves with one of these products once every two weeks until the problem clears up. Plants will still look ragged, but the infestation is under control.

Taking preventative steps through the winter months allows plants to recover and grow back nicely in the springtime.


Use chemical treatments sparingly and as a last resort. They can cause more damage than benefit in your garden. Commercial insecticides can:

  • Kill off valuable pollinators such as bees and butterflies
  • Result in the increase of other pests (e.g., spider mites)
  • Poison lace bugs’ natural enemies
  • Contaminate water supplies

If you resort to chemical control lace bugs treatment, read the label instructions carefully and follow them to the letter.

Some effective chemicals, when used correctly, include these non-residual contact insecticides:

"Tortoise beetle on a green leaf"Pin
Photo Credit: Instagram @chosetec

These types of lace bug insecticides carry low toxicity to humans and domestic animals.

When applied judiciously and with great care, they will have a limited negative impact on natural insect predators and pollinators.

If your lace bug battle goes on for a couple of seasons without effect, apply one of these products carefully to the undersides of leaves in early spring.

Repeat the treatment bi-weekly. This will do away with adults and emerging nymphs regularly and continuously.

What About Systemic Insecticides?

Plants absorb systemic products and spread the “poison” throughout the plant’s circulatory system. Typically, the application of these products gets delivered through a foliar spray, trunk injection, or soil drench.

Depending on the type of poison and the type of plant, you may need to hire a pest control service to help you.

Some of the systemic insecticides commonly used against lace bugs include:

  • Organophosphate Acephate
  • Neonicotinoids
  • Imidacloprid

A single application of one of these powerful products in severe cases may eliminate the lace bug problem. But, unfortunately, it may also do away with the pollinators and your beneficial fauna.

You may have heard that bees are dying off at alarming rates worldwide. This is because of the use of neonicotinoids.

Bees are essential to life on Earth, so killing them off in mass numbers is sheer folly.

When poured into the ground (soil drench) or applied as a foliar spray, systemic insecticides can travel to plants other than the target plant.

Massive deaths will result if they translocate to flowering plants and are consumed by pollinators in nectar and pollen. Furthermore, the use of systemic insecticides is very likely to result in spider mite infestation.

Don’t Use Broad Spectrum Insecticides

Avoid broad-spectrum insecticides and those that leave persistent residues. Specific products to avoid include:

  • Pyrethroids, such as permethrin, fluvalinate, and bifenthrin
  • Nonsystemic organophosphates, such as malathion
  • Carbamates, such as Sevin and carbaryl

All of these are extremely poisonous and can decimate your population of natural insect predators and pollinators.

Additionally, when you poison insects, you are also poisoning other wildlife that eats them, such as birds, toads, lizards, box turtles, and so on.

Furthermore, these poisons don’t just stay politely in your garden, poisoning only your wildlife. Rain and watering cause them to run off into storm drains and streams, where they cause damage to aquatic life and eventually contaminate drinking water.

Iridescent insect on leafPin
Photo Credit: Instagram @hort.4.kidz

Related Reading:

Consistent Application Of Natural Deterrents Makes For A Win-Win!

All-in-all, it’s best to avoid using these powerful and potentially dangerous products simply.

When you choose hardy plants, carefully position them in your yard and tend to them well; they are unlikely to become infested with lace bugs.

If you have a lace bug problem, a tenacious effort using natural or less hazardous methods will surely be effective.

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