Azalea lace bug, Stephanitis pyrioides, belongs to a group of insects in the family Tingidae. The insects in this family generally live and feed on the underside of leaves. They have thin lacy outgrowths on their thorax, and have delicate lace-like forewings (Drake and Ruhoff 1965). At least 17 species of lace bugs cause damage to ornamental trees and shrubs in the United States.
Four species in the genus Stephanitis cause economic damage to plants in the heath family (Ericaceae) to which azaleas and rhododendrons belong. Of the four, the most damaging species associated with landscape plants is the azalea lace bug, Stephanitis pyrioides.
Infested azaleas develop stippled, bleached, silvery or chlorotic symptoms similar to those caused by mites. Azalea lace bug is a pest of major concern in the nursery industry due to this aesthetic plant damage. Even in established landscape planting, azalea lace bugs can cause considerable damage to foliage if not controlled early in the season when populations are low.
Native to Japan, the azalea lace bug spread around the world through the movement of its host species, azaleas. It occurs in most of the eastern United States including Florida. Available records show that it occurs in the states of Maryland, New York, Massachusetts, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, Texas and California.
The adult lace bug is 3 x 1.5 mm (1/10 inch) long and cream-colored. The netted lacy wings, marked with black or brown patches, are held flat over the body with outer margins extending beyond the body outline. Unless observed closely, the small size and transparent wings make it less apparent. When observed under a hand lens, a characteristic hood can be seen over the head.