Leatherjackets

Leatherjackets can be damaging lawn pests and sometimes kill small plants in flower beds and vegetable plots by eating the roots and stem bases. They are often more numerous after a wet autumn, as damp conditions favour survival of eggs and young larvae.

Leatherjackets

Quick facts

Common name Leatherjackets, daddy-longlegs, crane flies
Latin name Tipula spp.
Plants affected Mainly lawn grasses but also seedlings and small plants
Main symptoms Lawns develop yellowish brown dead patches; seedlings collapse having been eaten at soil level; presence of leatherjackets in the soil
Caused by The larval stage of crane flies or daddy-longlegs
Timing February-October

What are leatherjackets?

Leatherjackets are the soil-dwelling larvae of flies known as crane flies or daddy-longlegs.

Symptoms

How to tell if leatherjackets are a problem in your garden;

  • Lawns develop patches where the grasses turn yellowish brown and die. This can be distinguished from similar effects caused by lawn diseases or adverse growing conditions by lifting the affected turf and finding leatherjackets in the surface layers of the soil
  • Another method to reveal leatherjackets in lawns is to soak it with water and covering it with material impervious to light, such as sacking or black polythene.  The following day large numbers of grubs should be found on the surface under the cover
  • Crows, magpies, rooks and starlings will search for leatherjackets in turf. These birds leave small round holes in the turf where they have inserted their beaks
  • Leatherjackets have elongate tubular bodies, up to 30mm long, and are greyish brown. They have no legs or obvious head
  • In flower beds or vegetable plots, seedlings and small plants are killed when the stems are damaged at soil level

Control

Non-chemical control

A biological control is available for controlling leatherjackets in lawns, flower beds and vegetable plots. This is a pathogenic nematode, Steinernema feltiae, which is watered into the turf or soil. The nematodes enter the bodies of leatherjackets and infect them with a bacterial disease. To be effective, the nematode requires soil that is well drained but moist and with a minimum temperature of 12°C (54°F). The turf around the edge of affected areas should be targeted to deal with larvae spreading out from infestation “hot spots” in the lawn. However, by the time areas of infestation become apparent, the soil may be too cold for nematodes to be effective.

As a preventive measure, apply nematodes in September to early October against leatherjackets. Nematodes should be applied as soon as possible after purchase, following the suppliers’ instructions for use. It may be necessary to water the lawn before and after application to ensure the soil is sufficiently moist for nematode activity and survival.

Chemical control

There are currently no chemical controls for leatherjackets on lawns.

Download

Biological control suppliers (Adobe Acrobat pdf)

Biology

There several species of leatherjackets/crane flies that feed on the roots and stem bases of lawn grasses and other plants.

The adult crane flies or daddy-longlegs mostly emerge and lay eggs in the turf or soil surface in mid-August to October. Dry soil conditions at that time can result in many of the eggs failing to hatch, so large numbers of adult flies does not necessarily mean that there will be large numbers of larvae or leatherjackets next year.

The eggs hatch a few weeks after they have been laid and the young leatherjackets begin feeding on plant roots. In cold winters, they overwinter as small larvae and do not grow large enough to cause significant damage until mid-summer. Mild winters allow the young larvae to continue feeding and they can be large enough to cause lawn problems by late winter.

When fully grown, the leatherjackets pupate in the soil. When the adult flies emerge, the pupal case is often partly pulled out of the ground and left sticking up above the lawn surface.

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  • ShirlBlake avatar

    By ShirlBlake on 16/07/2014

    Does the treatment applied annually for leather jackets, or is it a one off treatment?

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