Managing Leatherjacket Larvae in Lawns: Comprehensive Guide to Control

Introduction to Leatherjacket Larvae

What Are Leatherjacket Larvae?

Leatherjacket larvae are the immature stage of crane flies, commonly known as daddy-long-legs. These grayish-brown, legless grubs are often found just beneath the soil surface, feeding on the roots and stems of grass, thus causing damage to lawns and turf.

Why are Leatherjackets a Concern?

Leatherjacket infestations can lead to significant issues for homeowners, gardeners, and turf managers. The larvae’s feeding habits result in patches of dead or yellowing grass that can mar the appearance of a well-maintained lawn. In more severe cases, this can lead to extensive damage requiring costly repairs.

Lifecycle and Habits of Leatherjacket Larvae

Lifecycle of Crane Flies

Understanding the lifecycle of crane flies, the adult form of leatherjackets, is essential for effective control. Adult crane flies lay eggs in the soil during late summer and early autumn. The eggs hatch into leatherjacket larvae, which feed actively during the fall and spring. The larvae then pupate, emerging as adult flies to restart the cycle.

Feeding Habits and Behavior

Leatherjacket larvae primarily feed on the roots and lower stems of grasses. Their feeding leads to weakened grass that is more susceptible to diseases and other pests. Leatherjackets prefer wet, poorly drained soil, which often makes lawns with poor drainage more prone to infestation.

Identifying Leatherjacket Larvae Infestation

Physical Appearance

Leatherjacket larvae are cylindrical, legless, and typically 1-1.5 inches long. Their bodies are grayish-brown and often have a smooth, shiny appearance. Identifying them physically is usually the most definitive way to confirm an infestation.

Signs of Damage

The damage caused by leatherjacket larvae may include yellow or brown patches in the lawn, loose turf that can be easily pulled back, and the presence of predators such as birds that feed on the larvae. The symptoms can be confused with other lawn problems, so proper identification is crucial.

Prevention and Control of Leatherjacket Larvae

Improving Soil Drainage

Since leatherjackets prefer wet, poorly drained soil, improving the lawn’s drainage can make it less appealing for them. Techniques such as aeration, adding sand or compost, and proper grading can help in enhancing soil drainage.

Encouraging Natural Predators

Predators like birds, moles, and shrews feed on leatherjacket larvae. Encouraging these natural predators, without causing other issues, can provide biological control. Installing bird feeders and preserving natural habitats can attract beneficial wildlife.

Applying Chemical Controls

Insecticides that are specifically labeled for leatherjacket control can be applied as a last resort when infestations are severe. The effectiveness of chemical control depends on proper timing, application methods, and following the manufacturer’s instructions. Consideration of the environmental impact is also vital.

Utilizing Cultural Controls

Regular lawn care practices such as mowing at the right height, watering appropriately, and fertilizing can create a resilient lawn that’s less susceptible to leatherjacket damage. Introducing resistant grass varieties can also be part of a proactive strategy.

Monitoring and Early Intervention

Consistent monitoring and early detection are essential in managing leatherjacket infestations. Regular inspections, especially during their active feeding periods in spring and fall, can allow for timely interventions that minimize damage.

Research and Extension Support

Collaborating with Local Extensions

Local extension services and agricultural universities often provide valuable resources, including identification services, personalized recommendations, and educational workshops. Collaboration with these entities can lead to more effective and sustainable leatherjacket control.

Leveraging Research Findings

Research into leatherjacket biology, behavior, and control is ongoing. Staying informed about the latest research findings can lead to new and more effective ways to manage this pest. Participating in community-based research projects can also contribute to broader understanding and control efforts.

Public Awareness and Community Involvement

Educating the Community

Education is key to broader leatherjacket control efforts. Hosting or attending workshops, distributing informational materials, and utilizing social media to spread awareness can engage the community in prevention and control.

Coordinated Community Efforts

In areas where leatherjacket infestations are a common issue, coordinated community efforts can lead to more significant success. Neighbors working together to implement control strategies can prevent the spread of the infestation and reduce overall pest pressure.


Controlling leatherjacket larvae in lawns is a multifaceted challenge that requires understanding the biology of the pest, recognizing the signs of infestation, and implementing a range of preventive and control measures. Integrating cultural, biological, and chemical methods, along with community engagement and collaboration with research and extension, provides a comprehensive approach to managing this common lawn pest. Education and public awareness play a crucial role in fostering responsible practices and minimizing the impact of leatherjacket larvae on our cherished outdoor spaces.