Stink bugs and leaf footed bugs are close cousins in biology and crime.
They have similar life cycles. Both kinds of bugs have shield shaped bodies, stink glands and piercing-sucking mouth parts. They feed on like plants and cause the same type of damage.
Unfortunately, they are common pests. Gardeners often first notice the bugs on tomatoes, but they also attack other fruits, vegetables, flowers, and nuts.
Stink bugs are so named because they emit a foul smelling liquid when frightened. Familiar green and brown stinkbugs with broad shield-shaped bodies are widespread pests in the Southeast. The brown species is yellowish gray in color and its nymphs are pale green. The green species nymphs start out black, become green with orange and black markings before becoming all green with narrow yellow outline as adults.
Leaf footed bugs get their name from the flattened leaf-like flare on the lower portion of their back legs. Adults are brown with an elongated shield shaped body. They have a cream stripe across their body midway between their head and the tip of their abdomen. Nymphs are red-orange with long black legs.
Nymphs are structurally similar to adults but smaller and have underdeveloped wings.
Adults are 5/8 – ¾ of an inch long.
Stink bugs and leaf footed bugs overwinter as adults in weedy areas like ditch banks, leaf debris or organic mulch. They emerge in spring to feed on weedy plants and mate. Eggs hatch five to seven days after they are laid. Nymphs go through 5 instar stages and molt into mature adults in 25 to 30 days. Locally we can expect two generations per year.
Young nymphs are often found clustered together feeding in one spot. Later instars become solitary feeders.
Stink bugs and leaf footed bugs are active from May through the fall. The population peaks in late summer-early fall.
The bugs move their feeding from the weedy areas to fruits, vegetables and nut trees as their fruits start to ripen.
The bugs suck plant juices from vegetables, flowers, fruits and nuts by piercing and sucking. Most severe damage results from feeding on fruiting structures. Injury includes pitting, discoloration and deformity. Puncturing the fruit sometimes allows pathogens to enter and cause rot.
As the bugs puncture fruits they inject a toxin-like substance into the tissue. The damage on tomatoes is visible as yellow spots showing through the skin. The tissue under the skin becomes corky, spongy and silvery white. This can be cut out and the rest of a tomato consumed.
Nuts become misshapen. Pecans develop black bitter spots in the nut meat.
Pomegranates, sunflowers, prickly pear, peaches, beans, eggplants, okra, cowpeas, blueberries and corn are among the bugs’ 50 plus target plants.
Some birds and spiders, wheel bugs and assassin bugs are natural predators. So are parasitic wasps.
Often the nymphs and adults are large enough to find with cursory inspection of host plants. Control nymphs with insecticidal soap spray. Nymphs and adults can be swept off into soapy water to drown. Adults may fly away, but they come right back.
An aggregate of young nymphs, their wings underdeveloped, offers a good opportunity to dispose of a number of the bugs at once.
Prevent the bugs from overwintering in your yard. Weedy areas should be kept well mowed. Garden debris should be removed.
If you have garden area with a large population of stink bugs or leaf footed bugs, try pouring soapy water into the mulch on a warm winter day. It will drive the overwintering bugs to the surface where they can be hand removed and disposed of in soapy water or sprayed with an insecticide.
Broad spectrum insecticides containing bifenthrin, carbaryl, cyfluthrin, cyhalothrin, malathion and permethrin are effective against adults. (Few insecticides kill the eggs.)
If you choose to use a chemical insecticide on your plants, follow all label instructions. Pay careful attention to the days-to-harvest warning on the label. Remember that a broad spectrum insecticide also kills the beneficial insects, including pollinators.
For more information and excellent pictures google/search Field Guide to Stink Bugs – Virginia Tech.
Reach Debbie Menchek, a Clemson Master Gardener, at email@example.com.