Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Buggies, stinkie buggies

Leaf footed bugs (Leptoglossus species), aka stink bugs, really do stink when disturbed or squished. I make it a practice not to touch bugs with my bare skin since I get the willies real easy, and these are a definite do-not-touch bug because the foul smell does not go away quickly. My first acquaintance with them was a couple of years ago. First I saw rows of tiny golden balls on the backs of rose leaves. (I took photos, but I can't find them now.) I googled for them and came up empty. Later all the new growth and tiny flower buds on my roses looked like someone had taken a match to them, singed black and crispy. I was beside myself. Later still I started seeing tiny orange bugs with thread-thin black legs on the new growth. Back then I was trying to learn about the good bugs and the bad bugs, but I could never remember which was which. Since these orange bugs were sitting on singed rose parts, there wasn't much question which these were. They were bad, and then they were dead, squished between my gloved fingers. More time passed and I saw big brown bugs and matched them to photos on the internet - leaf footed bugs. It wasn't until last year that I knew their alias, stink bugs. Last year was my first year growing hollyhocks. Imagine my shock and disgust the first time I saw a stalk of flower buds covered with these miniature monsters. After my initial panicked scurrying for something to kill them with, I thought perhaps I should let them stay on the hollyhock, the theory being that they'll stay away from the roses. Wrong! Apparently, they're finicky and tire easily of one type of food, moving on to another. I've read that they really love tomatoes and beans and fruit. I don't grow any of those, but they also have a taste for roses. It's hard to spot the bugs on the bush, but their damage stands out like a sore thumb, deformed and singed new growth. When I see it, I start looking for the evil bug. Another problem with leaving them be is that they are prodigious egg-layers.

According to what I've read, permethrins work (the stuff that's in flea & tick killer), but I don't use pesticides in the garden, and there aren't any predators due to their defense mechanism, the stench. I just smush them, or I cut them in half with my pruners. Since they're 3/4 of an inch long, they make easy targets. If I'm not wearing gloves, I find two good-sized leaves and squish the bugs between the leaves. Sometimes I miss though. I really need to have gloves with me at all times now that the stink bugs are back. Tonight I read that the most effective way to eliminate them is to put on gloves and hand pick them off of the plants and place them in a soap and water solution (one tablespoon of dish soap to one gallon of water). This will kill the adults and young in a few seconds. They're pretty slow moving so they're not too hard to catch, but they have a tendency to sidle around to the other side of the stem. Since the beneficial Assassin Bug and the young leaf footed bug look so similar, remember that the leaf footed bug likes to hang out with lots of his buddies whereas the Assassin Bug is a loner.
I found this cool graphic on the internet. Unfortunately there was no attribution - only an error message.

So be on the look-out. They're out there, and they're ugly... and stinky.


  1. Grew up staying away from stink bugs!

  2. Oh I did battle with Leaf hoppers last year in my garden!! I wanted to scream I had them so bad and I mean bad. I did everything I could but had to resort to Seven as nothing else worked to get rid of them. I never smelled anything from them though. I have spotted them again this year but I am prepared to do battle if I have too. I was going to do a post on these little stinkers too, lol.

  3. I have a big problem with these on my tomatoes and watermelon. I've just been taking them off by hand. They haven't made any stink yet for me. They really do move around though. I got some permethrins on sale yesterday.

  4. Are stink bugs related to skunks by any chance :) ? I am sorry to so many of them, and hope you will win the battle. I don't think I have them in my garden, but I do have lots of aphids and snails...

  5. I just saw one of those little buggers the other I forgot where it was. I have had experience with their smell, and it is not pleasant. Good luck!

  6. I see these in my garden too, but so far not too many. I'll start using the soapy water method before it's too late.

  7. So i lost about 30 percent of my garden in the last two days because of the recent arrival of these.... I NEED ADVICE as to how i can make their departure TODAY!

    1. Hi, Micha, the only thing I can suggest is hand picking and squashing them. My understanding is that there are no insecticides that work on them because they don't ingest the plant they are attacking. They only suck the juices out (and inject toxins). They're fairly sluggish so with gloves you should be able to kill a bunch of them. The stink that they emit is nasty. I can even smell it in the garden before I see them. I think I would also rub or remove the leaf it was sitting on in case it was laying eggs. The orange nymph stage does damage, too. I hope you get a handle on them. They really are my worst pest.Here's a link you might find informative. Happy gardening!!