By: Kristi Waterworth
There are lots of interesting insects in the garden, many that are neither friend nor foe, so we gardeners mostly ignore them. When we find leaf footed bugs in gardens, it’s hard to know what to think. These stinkbug relatives have a peculiar look about them and they spend way too much time near our prized fruits, but they rarely break the top 10 worst garden bugs. Don’t worry, we’ve got the dirt on the leaf footed bug so your next encounter can be a much more enlightened one.
What are Leaf Footed Bugs?
Leaf footed bugs are medium to large sized insects in the genus Leptoglossus. Although they differ widely in coloration, each shares a distinctive trait: leaf-shaped plates located on the lower sections of both back legs. Leaf footed bugs tend to be shaped similarly to stink bugs and appear in drab colors like tan, gray, brown, and black once they reach adulthood.
Nymphs are elongated with abdomens that come to a point toward the end, often in bright colors like orange-red and with dark legs.
Are Leaf Footed Bugs Bad?
Most of the time, there’s no reason to worry too much about these insects. Leaf footed bug damage is very limited in the home garden, and they rarely appear in sufficient numbers to do more than minor cosmetic damage to fruits and ornamental plants. These creatures will feed on a wide range of plants, but they do the worst damage to nut and fruit-bearers, like almonds, pistachios, pomegranates, and citrus.
Because of their typically “barely harmful to only mildly annoying” rating on the garden insect scale, leaf footed bug control is not a big concern. Cultural practices like hand-picking nymphs from inside protected plant spaces and keeping weeds mowed down are a great way to discourage and destroy the bulk of populations.
Groups of nymphs may be successfully doused in insecticidal soap, but you should avoid chemical insecticides as much as possible to preserve the natural enemies of these bugs.
Leaf footed bug populations are rarely problematic, but keep an eye out after a mild winter, since adults have a tendency to winter over unless it gets very cold. In these years, it may help to shield your sensitive plants with row covers as soon as possible to prevent huge groups of leaf footed bugs from laying eggs and feeding upon them.
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"Leaf-footed bug" refers to a broad category of bugs that share the common trait of a widened lower hind leg. The leaf-footed bug is a common sight in many parts of the country. In Texas, where the image at right was taken, leaf-footed bugs frequently appear near pecan trees, tomato plants, numerous other fruit and vegetable crops and cotton plants — some of their favorite food sources. They feed on a wide range of tender young plants, beans and seeds. The leaf-footed bug in the genus Narnia is often seen on prickly pear cactus.
Both adult and nymph stages of the leaf-footed bug feed on plants by inserting their sharp mouthparts into the fruit or vegetable, injecting saliva and then sucking the juices. The process of injecting saliva into the fruit or vegetable causes the fruit to stop growing at that point and also affects its taste. As spring wears on, the number of leaf-footed bugs increases and so does their feeding frenzy until the peak of summer heat arrives.
A heavy infestation of leaf-footed bugs can be devastating to a crop, and controlling them with pesticides is difficult because the bugs fly. Commercial pecan growers sometimes try planting trap crops like pearl millet to lure the bugs to an area where more intensive management of the pests can occur. Sometimes that doesn't work, and other strategies have to be tried.
"Some years you can outrun them by planting early," says Paula Craig, agricultural extension horticulture agent in Brazoria County in Texas. "That's not possible every year. This year we had [late] cold weather and rain so it was hard to get ahead."
"You have to be a good scout in the garden, and try to catch them early," she says. "But we also say plant enough for you and the bugs too."
Hand-picking or catching with a butterfly net is one way to remove them from the garden. Customary methods like dusting with powders don't work. "We recommend two shoes," Paula says.
How Can You Identify Leaf Footed Bugs?
There are more than 1800 types of Leaf Footed Bugs worldwide. About 80 of these species live in North America. While they vary somewhat in markings, most have a basic brown, oblong body, small wings and the telltale leaf-like projections on the hind legs.
Adult bugs in all species are about an inch long and have narrow, brown bodies and very small heads with long antennae. Aside from their small distinctions, the species look fairly similar and have the same lifecycle.
Unusual Insects: Leaf Footed Plant Bugs in Houston Texas
The nymphs of the Leaf Footed Bug are usually an orange or reddish brown color. They have long, dark legs and dark heads. As the nymphs mature, they develop the leaf-like projections on their legs.
Sadly, Leaf Footed nymphs look quite a bit like beneficial Assassin Bug nymphs. Before you kill any bug nymphs, be sure to identify them accurately. The nymphs of the Assassin Bug are light-colored and remain smooth and slim.
Leaf-footed bug nymph crawling on leaves
Adult Leaf Footed Bugs can overwinter in debris, wood piles and outbuildings. As long as they are protected from extreme cold, they will survive the winter months and emerge in the springtime seeking food.
They will also immediately begin laying eggs when they come out of hiding and can lay as many as two hundred before the growing season begins.
Watch for their golden-brown, cylindrical eggs, which are laid in a string-like strand, on leaf midribs or stems of the host plant. There are usually ten or fifteen eggs in each strand, but it is possible for some bugs to lay as many as fifty eggs per strand.
Eggs hatch after about a week, and the nymphs emerge and begin eating. Within two months, they will have developed into adults and will start the entire cycle over again.
Before summer is well underway, you may have two full generations of Leaf Footed Bugs in your yard and garden because the overwintered adults will still be alive, and a whole new, expanded generation will be fully grown and continuing to breed and lay eggs.
Coreidae (leaf-footed bugs) in order Hemiptera (true bugs)
Leaf-footed bugs are a family of plant-eating true bugs that are named for the flattened, leaflike extensions that many have on their hind legs. Good flyers, they usually make a noisy buzzing as they fly. When disturbed, many species give off a bad odor in defense. They are usually dark colored, though some are tan, orange, or yellowish, and may have contrasting colors.
In North America north of Mexico, there are 11 tribes in 3 subfamilies in this family of true bugs. The common names of several species name the food plants they are associated with, such as the passion vine bug, the milkweed bug, sweet potato bug, and — most famous of the bunch — squash bug.
Similar species: Several other groups of true bugs look similar. See Key Identifiers, below, for special ID characters for leaf-footed bugs that will help distinguish them from similar bugs.
- Seed bugs (family Lygaeidae) have only 4 or 5 veins on the forewing membrane (visible, at rest, on the diamond-shaped, posterior portion, covering the end of the abdomen).
- Stink bugs (family Pentatomidae) have a rounder or squarer, shieldlike body large, triangular scutellum at the middle of the back and 5-segmented antennae.
- Assassin and ambush bugs (family Reduviidae) are predatory, with a short, 3-segmented beak that fits into a groove under the head, and their forelegs (not hindlegs) are typically thickened and muscular looking. There is usually a narrower, necklike constriction at the base of the head.
- Many parallel veins on the front wing membrane (visible, at rest, on the diamond-shaped, posterior portion that covers the end of the abdomen)
- Usually more than ½ long
- Usually dark colored
- Usually oval
- Head narrower than pronotum (shoulderlike plate behind the head) head usually shorter than pronotum, too
- Hind leg tibiae (shinlike leg segment) often flattened or leaflike
- Outside edges of abdomen often raised, with folded wings fitting in a bowl-like depression
- Antennae with 4 segments
- Fairly long beak, with 4 segments
Length: most are ½ to ¾ inch, though some Missouri species may reach 1¼ inches.
Leaf Footed Bug Control - Are Leaf Footed Bugs Bad - garden
[From the July 2014 issue of the UC IPM Retail Nursery & Garden Center News]
Recognizing leaffooted bugs
Adult leaffooted bugs are readily recognized by their characteristic hind legs. There are three common species of leaffooted bugs in California:
The brown, cylindrical eggs of all three species are laid end-to-end in a string-like strand on the host plant (Figure 2), often along a stem or leaf midrib. Eggs hatch into small nymphs that have dark heads and dark legs on bodies that range in color from orange to reddish-brown (Figure 3).
Leaffooted bugs overwinter as adults, typically in aggregations located in protected areas, such as in woodpiles, barns or other buildings, palm fronds, citrus or juniper trees, under peeling bark, or in tree cracks. Overwintered
Populations vary from year to year but are typically highest after mild winters that allow high survival of overwintering adults. Seasonal fluctuations in the number of bugs can also be related to rainfall, food availability, and the prevalence of natural enemies.
Damage to plants
Leaffooted bugs have piercing-sucking mouthparts that extend more than half of the length of their narrow body. They probe into leaves, shoots, and fruit to suck plant juices. For most ornamentals and many garden plants, feeding on the leaves and shoots causes no visual damage and is of little concern. Feeding on small tomatoes can cause the fruit to abort, while feeding on medium-sized fruit can result in depressions or discoloration at the feeding site as the fruit expands and ripens. Feeding on mature tomatoes can cause slight discoloration to the surface of the fruit that should be of no concern to backyard gardeners. Damage is similar to that caused by stink bugs and other plant bugs.
During most years, leaffooted bug populations are low enough that damage to gardens is tolerable and damage to landscape plants is negligible. When outbreaks occur, a combination of methods will likely be needed to manage this pest, which may include removing overwintering sites or the use of weed host removal, row covers, physical removal, natural enemies, and insecticides.
Are pesticides effective?
Insecticides are rarely needed for leaffooted bug control because small blemishes on most fruit are tolerable in gardening situations and because landscape plants are rarely damaged. Also, leaffooted bugs are most common on edible plants near harvest, when applying pesticides to fruits to be consumed is undesirable or not allowed by the label. In addition, most insecticides available to homeowners only have temporary effects on the leaffooted bug.
However, in severe cases, insecticides can be considered as a last resort. If needed, insecticides will be most effective against small nymphs. The most effective insecticides against leaffooted bugs are broad-spectrum, pyrethroid-based insecticides, such as permethrin. However, these products are quite toxic to bees and beneficial insects. Insecticidal soap or botanicals, such as neem oil or pyrethrin, may provide some control of young nymphs only. If insecticides are used close to harvest, make sure to tell your customers to observe the days-to-harvest period stated on the insecticide label and wash the fruit before eating.
Mating pair of, Leptoglossus zonatus on pecan Bill Ree, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension
Leaffooted bug is a common name given to insects in the family Coreidae. These insects can be identified by the expanded dilation of the tibia or lower portion of the leg. The dilations can be pronounced, Figure 1, or slight, Figure 2, depending on species. The majority of the species are dark colored and medium to large (5/8 to 1 + inch in length) in size with most being plant feeders, however, a few may be predaceous. As a group, leaffooted bugs have a wide host range that includes numerous fruits, vegetables, citrus, row crops, ornamentals and weeds. The adults are strong fliers and can move considerable distances to search for host plants.
Figure 3. The leaffoted bug, Acanthocephala terminalis. Bill Ree, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Figure 4. Leaffooted bug nymphs Bill Ree, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension
Figure 5. Egg chain and newly hatched nymphs Bill Ree, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension
Habitat & Hosts
Leaffooted bugs feed a wide range of host plants including: pecan, fruit, citrus, millet, vegetables and numerous weeds, Figures 6, 7, 8, 9.
Figure 8. Leptoglossus phyllopus on pearl millet. Bill Ree, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Figure 9 Leptoglossus zonatus on okra Bill Ree, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension
Leaffooted bugs have three life stages – egg, nymph and adult. Adults over winter, emerge during the spring where females lay eggs on host plants. Eggs are laid in chains, Figure 5 and there are 5 nymphal or instar stages. Early instars are reddish with black legs, Figure 4 and can be easily confused with the beneficial wheel bug nymphs, Figure 10, which have a red abdomen but a black thorax and head. The adult wheel bug, Figure 11 is often confused with adult leaffooted bugs. The wheel bug is a predacious insect and is considered beneficial.
Leaffoted bugs damage plants as both adult and the nymphal stages. All stages have piercing-sucking mouthparts that they use this to feed on plant juices from leaves, shoots, stems and fruit.Figure 10. Wheel bug nymphs Bill Ree, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Figure 11. Wheel bug adult Bill Ree, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension
If you live in the State of Texas, contact your local county agent or entomologist for management information. If you live outside of Texas, contact your local extension for management options.
There are various management options, either alone or in combination that can be undertaken, depending on host plants and the area that needs to be protected. Various management options can include:
Cultural: Removing or managing early season weed host such as thistle and Gaura can help reduce populations in the immediate area, Figure 12
Physical: Depending on the crop, row covers, which physically exclude the insect can be effective, Figure 13.
Organic: There are several organic certified insecticides that can be used, however, residual control from these products will be limited and reapplications will have to be made.
Natural enemies: Various predators and parasites attack leaffooted bugs. Predators can include assassin bugs, spiders and predatory stinkbugs. A common parasite of leaffooted bug and stink bug adults and late instar nymphs is the feather legged fly Trichopoda pennipes, Figure 14.
Insecticides: The most effective insecticides are the pyrethroid based products. Some examples of pyrethroid active ingredients include: bifenthrin, lambda-cyhaolthrin, permethrin, cypermethrin and cyfluthin. Insecticides, including organic products work best against the nymphal stages so frequent scouting of host plants is recommended to detect early stages of an infestation. When using an insecticide read and follow label directions for safety precautions, rates and preharvest intervals.Figure 12. Cultural control – Adult Leptoglossus phyllopus on thistle Bill Ree, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Figure 13. Physical control – Row cover over tomatoes to protect from leaffooted bugs/stink bugs Bill Ree, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Figure 14. Biological control – Feather-legged fly egg on stink bug Bill Ree, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension