Japanese beetle infestation in Denver metro area devours plants

DENVER -- The Denver metro area is now the home to a beetle that hails from Japan.

Garden experts say there is an infestation of the Japanese beetle that feeds on more than 200 species of plants. And there is very little that can be done to combat them.

Colorado State University horticulture expert Robert Cox said repeated years of the pesky pests eating leaves and damaging them can kill plants.

But a lawn expert said they are more of a nuisance than anything.

"I'm quite a rose gardener. I love my roses here," said Kathy Rowe of Littleton.

But everything is not so rosy at her pristine home. Her prized flowers have become an all-you-can-eat buffet for the bugs as they polish off petals and lunch on leaves.

"We are in the early stages of the infestation," said Tony Hahn with Swingle Lawn Care.

But they got their start at Rowe's home as grubs in the grass that attracted animals.

"Raccoons and skunks, they dig because these larvae are tasty, big, juicy," he said.

Hahn said that's when they are most destructive.

"The larvae feed on the grass roots. If you don't have roots, you have a dead plant," Hahn said.

The larvae then blossom into adults, which feast on leaves, which then weakens a plant's ability to feed itself, and could eventually kill it, according to Cox.

"We've got one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10 of them on one leaflet," said Hahn, showing the bugs on the plants of Rowe’s neighbor.

What's worse is they are notoriously difficult to get rid of.

"If we come in and start spraying, they fly away, then they come back," Hahn said.

Plus, pesticides that don't kill beneficial bugs, like honey bees, have to be used. And there are just so many of them.

"They reproduce really easily and very well," Hahn said.

So it leaves Rowe with few options, but one that she relishes. She kills them by hand.

"I kind of feel like a murderer. I like to see them suffer," Rowe said.

She kills the beetles by knocking them into a bucket of soapy water, where they drown.

She said it’s time consuming, but it’s her new normal, now that these bugs are here to stay.