11 October 2012

Leaf-Footed Squash Bug

The leaf-footed squash bug became a problem in my garden this past spring.  With not much of a winter and an early spring, the insects were out early.  Cool-season gardening is usually my favorite - I plant potatoes as well as lettuce, spinach, broccoli and peas.  With the early warm weather, came the squash bugs.  I have to say that I saw lots of these pests this year, but I didn't see much damage.  The most dramatic scene was a declining potato plant with many squash bugs in different stages of development.  The orange/red nymphs had me fooled at first - I thought they were assassin bugs.

From the order Hemiptera, which means half-winged, these insects have a partially hardened forewing, while the rest of it is membranous.  Leaf-footed means that part of their hind legs are flattened, possibly resembling a leaf.  They have sucking mouthparts - a proboscis pierces the plant tissue and sucks out the liquids.  While some bugs transmit pathogens, it is unclear whether this one does, although any damage to plant tissue can be an opportunity for diseases to infect the host plant.  They also can be a lot larger than other garden pests, measuring a inch or more, including the antennae.

In the spring, eggs are laid typically on the underside of a leaf of a member of the Curcubit family - squash, cucumber, pumpkin, etc.  In about ten days the eggs hatch and the nymphs begin feeding on the host plant and in about 4-6 weeks they will have grown into adults, having completed simple metamorphosis.  The adults don't mate, but overwinter until spring when they emerge, mate and begin the whole life cycle again.

The best control for this pest is vigilance.  Check regularly for egg clusters, hand pick individual bugs from plants, remove dead host plants and cultivate the soil, hopefully disturbing their winter resting places.

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