Leather jackets bugs and how to get rid

If you’ve recently found an occurrence of yellowish patches in your garden where the grass has died off, there is a high chance that your garden is having a leather jacket infestation. 

Leather jacket bugs are common in UK gardens and there are several ways you can get rid of them.

The larvae of the European Crane Fly or Daddy Long Legs, also known as leatherjackets, cause lawn damage by consuming plant roots. Cranes fly lay their eggs after just 24 hours of hatching, and in mid-July to early August, they hatch from pupae.

So what exactly are leather jacket bugs?

How do they look like?

How do you identify them and save your garden and crops from infestation?

Here’s a guide to help you find answers to all your questions.

leather jacket bugs snippet image

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Table of Contents

What are Leather Jackets?

Leather jackets are the larvae of a common garden pest known as crane flies or daddy-longlegs. In the UK, there are more than 300 species of crane flies but the most popular is Tipula paludosa, which can cause a menace to our gardens.

Crane flies lay eggs just below the garden surface as they prefer damp conditions to grow. When the eggs hatch, the grubs cause spots of leather jackets on the garden surface, which remain for months. As the next generations of flies grow up, they lay eggs again and this is how the next cycle of leather jackets begins.

crane fly and grass

How does a Leather Jacket Look?

Wondering how a leather jacket would look like or how you can identify them? Well, leather jackets at the early stage are so tiny that it’s difficult to find them with bare eyes. They usually have a size of less than 1 cm long at the early stage. As they grow, they get bigger in size up to 3 cm long or more. The larvae usually have an elongated body that’s greyish brown in colour. They can be distinguished from adult flies easily because they have no head or legs.

Life Cycle of Crane Flies

Each female crane fly can reproduce from 2 to 300 eggs in her life span. The birth of a crane fly is highly dependent on the moisture level of the ground.

  • Once the female crane flies lays eggs, they can hatch in 10-15 days.
  • As they hatch eggs, the second stage of their life starts as larvae.
  • The next and third stage of their life is pupae, which lasts for 1-2 weeks.
  • Then, the crane flies emerge as adults, mate, and lay eggs. Crane flies lay eggs on the same day as they mate.
cranefly adult

How to Identify Leather Jackets?

You can identify leather jackets and crane fly activities in your garden by following the methods below:

Soil Digging

Crane fly is a very destructive lawn pest and the easiest way you can identify crane fly larvae is by digging holes into the soil using a fork or anything with a sharp edge. You need to dig up to three inches deep holes below the soil to check them properly.

Checking Grass Condition

The leatherjacket grubs feed on grass and hence, you may spot some areas in your garden where there are one or more patches of yellowish dead grass. You need to find out shady areas near the fences and walls where the turf is thinning very fast as that can be a sign of leatherjacket infestation.

Roots Dying

In areas where the grass has died or is thinning fast, you can try picking a portion of grass with your hand. If it comes up easily, it can be due to a crane fly attack. The grass is coming out easily because most of the grass roots and plant roots have been destroyed and eaten away by the crane fly larvae.

Checking Bird Activities

Crane flies are microscopic worms that are quite hard to identify. However, an alternative way to find them is by checking the bird activities in your garden. If you find too many birds pecking in your garden, there is a high chance of leather jacket occurrence.

Black Plastic Sheeting

It is another effective method of identifying leatherjackets in your garden. You need to cover the entire lawn or only the affected areas overnight with a black plastic sheet. It will increase the soil temperature and encourage the adult crane fly and its larvae to come out on the surface.

Are you wondering whether to cover the lawn completely or only the leatherjacket patches? We’ll recommend you cover the whole lawn as that will be a more effective method in finding the areas which are yet to be affected.

dead grass because of leather jackets

Why do Leather Jackets Appear?

It is very usual for the Daddy long legs to attack new turf in the UK gardens. It is more evident in the first two years since you have laid the new lawn. The amount of cost and effort that goes into laying premier lawns will make any gardener frustrated when it’s attacked by a European crane fly or any similar creature.

Why do leather jackets attack?

The reason for the attack is survival. Crane flies choose warm moist soil for laying eggs and hence, healthy lawns are the most suitable place for them. At the pupae and larval stage, this creature feeds on healthy grass. As a result, grass plants, grass seed, and new grass could be destroyed.

moist soil

When do Leather Jackets Appear?

Adult crane fly emerges in early autumn during August-October. During winter months or especially in mid-winter, it becomes a little difficult for them to survive because of the dry weather. However, most crane flies still find ways to survive in mild winters.

The actual problem starts in spring when the new grubs feed again. Within a few weeks in April-May, leather jackets start to cause significant damage to the ground and it continues to early summer, mid-summer, and even late summer in some gardens.

But what damages do they usually cause? Let us quickly find it out.

cranefly appear in august

What Damages do Leather Jacket Bugs Cause?

Daddy long legs can cause mild to severe damage to the garden depending upon their sizes and leatherjacket population. In early June or July, adult flies hatch from pupae and cause devastation in lands by feeding on grass and plant roots. The plants and grass can die due to the damage.

Moreover, there are natural predators of crane flies in your garden. Animals such as birds, badgers and foxes love to peck the flies by digging up your entire garden. It means the more leatherjackets are in your garden, the higher are the chances of a total mess all over your garden. If you don’t act early, it can leave your garden grass in a worse condition.

How to Get Rid of Leather Jackets?

If the infestation of these metamorphosing insects can be so awful, is there any effective way of killing or controlling them? Don’t worry. Here are some guidelines that can help you get rid of them.

killing cranefly

How to Repair the Damage?

If your garden has been partially damaged by the infestation and there is still some amount of grass coverage, you can repair the damage with the help of mechanical lawn renovation. The best time to undertake the renovation is from late spring to early summer. Garden scarification, aeration, top dressing and overseeing can help you bring back your garden to life.

If your garden has been completely devastated by the hungry critters and no amount of grass is visible, you need to returf or reseed the garden. However, before you take any action, make sure the crane flies are out of the garden.

So how to ensure this?

You can expose the land to birds and predators and observe their activities. If they stop pecking, it means half of your work is done. Then, you can proceed with returfing or reseeding.

How to Prevent Leatherjackets?

The United Kingdom is moving towards becoming a pesticide-free nation. The EU legislation has recently changed and has made a restriction on the usage of chemical pesticides. Hence, the best form of controlling crane flies attacks is surely prevention.

To prevent crane flies infestation in the garden, here are some tips you need to follow:

Use Nematodes

Since the leatherjacket problem is quite common in UK gardens, most gardeners have found the best organic pest solution named nematodes. But, what are nematodes and how exactly do they work?

Nematodes are microscopic worms that kill leatherjackets. Whether you have a large infestation or a small one, you can apply nematodes in the garden. What nematodes do is that they enter the grub and kill those harmful creatures by infecting them with a bacterial disease.

Nematodes are available from most horticultural suppliers or you can contact the royal horticultural society. But you need to know the best time for applying nematodes as the effectivity depends on the timing, the age of the larvae, and the soil moisture. The best time for this treatment is between August and October when the soil remains moist and warm. This is also the time when the crane flies lay and hatch eggs under the soil.

What can you do apart from using nematodes to prevent leatherjackets?

Keeping your garden healthy and checking the garden on a regular basis are the two more essential tasks that you need to ensure.

Keep Your Garden Healthy

In general, healthy gardens are capable of defending more pests and clumsy insects than unhealthy gardens. Hence, you need to follow the best practices to keep your garden healthy and well-drained. Removing the hatch from your garden is the first step towards cleaning it and scarifying occasionally is the most effective way. It will help you prevent crane flies from laying eggs under the thick and lush grass of your garden. Aerating your garden and feeding the grass is also essential to prevent leatherjacket activity.

Do Regular Checking

If you are a passionate gardener, you must do a thorough checking in your garden to identify potential damages and pest attacks. Taking a preventative measure will make it easier for you to make biological control of the pests. If you notice crane fly activities during summer, there is a high chance of leather jackets in the upcoming spring. You need to take this as a warning and start the best practices to get rid of leather jackets at the earliest.

keeping garden healthy

Leather Jacket Bugs FAQ

Why are there so many crane flies in my garden?

Crane flies have a very short life span and they become desperate to mate before they die. Though they like the indoors for warmth, they always lay eggs outside in the garden. If you have noticed too many crane flies in your garden, maybe they are there for laying eggs and propagating.

cranefly mating

How long do daddy long legs live?

Daddy long legs live for only 10 to 15 days. Interestingly, some male daddy long legs have such a short life span that they do not have time to eat as they live.

Are crane flies poisonous?

No, crane flies don’t have any poison and neither do they bite. Though they often annoy residents and gardeners, they do not feed on animal blood. If you have a pet that loves to play around in your garden, you need not worry about a crane fly attacking them.

Can rain cure a leather jacket naturally?

No, rain does not cure leather jackets naturally as crane flies and their larvae prefer moist weather. Crane fly larvae live mostly under damp, shady grounds. Hence, they won’t come out of the garden easily if it rains.

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