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June 29, 2021

Another alien wants to eat through your garden

Photo/Steve Raggo
Leaf-footed bug nymphs feed on a variety of fruits, vegetables and flowering plants.
By Steve Raggo
Master Gardener

As gardeners, we fight many battles. We battle weather and weeds, insects and disease. Some problems we see over and over again. Sometimes, though, we see something new.

Last summer I came across an interesting, colorful insect nymph on the pole beans at the Vegetable Demonstration Garden, run by the Master Gardeners of Fauquier and Rappahannock counties at the Virginia Cooperative office in Warrenton. The nymphs were red with long black legs and black antennae, and they were moving about on both the tops and, upside-down, on the bottoms of the leaves. I took a photo and set about identifying them.

They were nymphs of leaf-footed bugs. They are a true bug (the Coreidae family) of the genus Leptoglossus. They are moderately large bugs, up to three-quarters of an inch long, and appear similar to the more familiar squash bug with the exception of a flattened, leaf-like expansion on their lower hind legs.

Adults overwinter in sheltered areas such as woods, leaf litter, outbuildings and even homes. They feed on a wide variety of plants, including fruits such as apples, blackberries, blueberries, peaches and pears along with many vegetables including bell peppers, eggplants, squash, tomatoes and, of course, green beans. They can also be a problem for gladiolus, roses, sunflowers and crepe myrtle.

Unlike squash bugs, the eggs of the leaf-footed bug are golden-brown and laid in a straight line, end-to-end, along a leaf rib or stem of the plant. The eggs take about seven days to hatch. The nymphs grow in five stages.

The very young nymphs exhibit the red or orange bodies without the leaf-like expansion on their legs, while later stages resemble the adults. During the nymphal stages of their life, they do most of the economic damage to crops by piercing the skin of plants with their proboscis and sucking the plant fluids. This can lead to loss of leaves and deformation of fruits which can make them unmarketable. The piercing can also allow pathogens to enter the fruit to cause rotting.

To control leaf-footed bugs in a residential garden, remove and destroy the eggs, nymphs and adults manually. They can also be organically controlled using insecticidal soaps or pyrethrum-based pesticides commonly available in the garden section of many stores. Some non-organic pesticides are available.

For more information, contact the Master Gardener Help Desk at 540-341-7950, Ext. 1, or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).
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