Willow leaf beetles

The feeding activities of bronzy green or bluish black beetles and their black larvae can cause foliage of willows, aspen and poplars to dry up and turn brown.

Willow leaf beetle larvae (<EM>Gonioctena viminalis</EM>)
Willow leaf beetle larvae (Gonioctena viminalis)

Quick facts

Common name Willow leaf beetles
Scientific name Several species in the genera Phratora and Crepidodera
Plants affected Willows (Salix spp), aspen and poplars (Populus spp)
Main symptoms Damaged leaves dry up and turn brown
Most active Summer

What are willow leaf beetles?

Willows and poplars are a food source during the summer months by several species of leaf beetle (Chrysomelidae). The beetles range in size from 2-4mm long and are often bronzy green or bluish black in colour. These leaf beetles include four similar looking species of Phratora and five species of Crepidodera. The larvae of most species are soft-bodied, black larvae that often feed together in clusters.

There are about 250 species of leaf beetle (family Chrysomelidae) found in Britain, they range in size from 1 mm to 18 mm. The family contains many metallic and attractive species and all feed on plants (herbivores). The willow leaf beetles belong to the subfamily Alticinae known as the flea beetles.   
UK beetles information on leaf beetles and the subfamily fleabeetles (Alticinae)


The adults and the larvae of willow leaf beetles graze away part of the leaf surface, causing the remaining damaged areas to turn brown and dry up. In some years these beetles can be very abundant and by the end of the summer most of the foliage on large trees can be affected.

Fortunately, although the damage they cause can be seen as unsightly, these beetles are part of the biodiversity host trees support and healthy trees soon recover. Severe damage is uncommon and does not usually occur every year.


In gardens willow leaf beetle damage can be accepted as part of the biodiversity supported by the host trees, even when most of the foliage on a tree is affected. Trees recover and severe defoliation does not usually occur year after year. 



Most willow leaf beetles have similar life cycles and are thought to have one generation a year. Adults can be found throughout the year and it is this stage that overwinters in crevices in bark, in dead wood and other sheltered places.

In the spring they emerge and mate and can probably lay eggs throughout spring and much of summer. The larval stage can be present from late spring and summer and feeds for a few weeks before dropping to the soil to pupate. New generation adults emerge before autumn and feed before overwintering.

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