What’s That Bug? Leaf-Footed Bugs in the Garden

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This article was originally posted by former Durham County Horticulture Agent Michelle Wallace on the Extension Master Gardener℠ Volunteers of Durham County Blog. For more articles like this, and to subscribe, visit the blog’s website

I work in a garden with a group of volunteers. The other day, a sharp-eyed person pointed out some bright orange-red bugs like these on the leaves of one of our potato plants.

Leaf-footed bug nymphs tend to cluster. Photo: Texas Master Gardeners, Galveston County

Leaf-footed bug nymphs tend to cluster. Photo: Texas Master Gardeners, Galveston County

These are the nymphs of the leaf-footed bug, a relative of stink bugs. Adult leaf-footed bugs are brown, with a flattened, leaf-shaped area on their hind legs. Both the nymphs and adults are pests that damage buds, flowers, fruits, and seeds. Leaf-footed bugs feed on many plants, including tomatoes, peaches, blueberries, beans, okra, and pecans. When these bugs feed on tomato fruit, they cause yellow, hardened spots to develop. Feeding on other fruits can cause brown spots to shriveled, misshapen fruits, depending on the number of bugs and the time the fruits are damaged.

Adult leaf-footed bugs overwinter in weedy areas or under mulch and debris. They lay eggs in a row on the undersides of leaves or on stems. Eggs hatch in 5-7 days, and nymphs mature in 25-30 days.

Leaf footed bug adult Photo: Debbie Roos, N.C. Cooperative Extension, Chatham County Center

Leaf-footed bug adult. Photo: Debbie Roos, N.C. Cooperative Extension, Chatham County Center

Leaf-footed bugs and their stinkbug relatives are difficult to control, but scouting for these pests now will help keep populations from building up throughout the season. Removing the nymphs and adults by hand and dropping them into a container of soapy water is an effective means of control when populations are small. You may want to wear gloves when picking leaf-footed bugs from your plants – they do have an unpleasant smell. There are few organic pesticides that are effective on these bugs, but hand picking now and reducing places where the adults can overwinter will help keep next year’s population in check. If you choose to use an insecticide to control a large population of leaf-footed bugs, pyrethroids can be used as directed.

Just a quick word of caution, though – some assassin bugs (beneficial insects) are also orange and can look similar to the leaf-footed bug nymphs shown above. For photos of assassin bugs, see the University of Kentucky Entomology website.

For more information about leaf-footed bugs:

Eastern Leaf-Footed Bug – NC Plant Disease and Insect Clinic Factsheets

Leaf-Footed Bugs – Virginia Cooperative Extension