What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

Subject: Red and Black beetle in Melbourne Australia
Location: Melbourne Australia
January 17, 2013 10:28 pm
HI there
Just discovered your site, it is fascinating and I’ve ended up spending a few evenings looking at all these interesting bugs!
Haven’t quite found one that looks like these I found on my chilli plant the other day.I have never seen these before and have had my chilli plant for about 4 years. When I first noticed them they were all congregated on one chilli which was drying up- not sure if they were the cause of that though.Someone suggested they perhaps were attracted to it as it was the same colour as them and were having a bit of a party on it. What fascinated me was there seemed to be two quite distinct looks to the beetle- one was much smaller and rounder and almost looked like a lady bug-but there were only 2 of them like that compared to about 10 of the others.(unfortunately that photo of the smaller one is a bit blurry sorry).Are they the female ones or baby ones perhaps?
Have also noticed that they go into hiding somewhere when our temperatures get too hot eg yesterday when we hit 40 deg C, but they come out all over my chilli plant when the weather is a little cooler ( still summer here though)
Initially thought they may be blister beetles ( but the antannae look a little different to photos I saw?)and am worried they are around as have a little toddler who is curious about everything including bugs. So would appreciate your help in identifying these so that I know whether to try to get rid of them ( how?)or let them be!
Signature: Melbournegal

Harlequin Bug

Dear Melbournegal,
Our initial impulse, which proved correct, was that this is a Red Bug in the family Pyrrhocoridae.  Upon researching that suspicion, we found a matching image on FlickR that was identified as a Harlequin Bug or Fire Bug, probably
Dindymus ventralis.  The common name Harlequin Bug is used for at least one other insect, a species of Stink Bug found in North America.  Firebug is a common name used for a European member of the family Pyrrhocoridae.  Your individuals are both immature nymphs.  Adults have fully developed wings.  The presence of nymphs in your garden is an indication that there is breeding activity going on.  When we searched the genus name provided by FlickR, we found a blog called A Year in a Gippsland Garden with an excellent first person encounter with the Australian Harlequin Bugs, here called Dindymus versicolour.  The site provides this information:  “For anyone looking at these little bugs in the garden and wondering if they are a potential problem or not the answer is a resounding ‘Yes!’  The Harlequin bug does not take great big obvious bites out of anything, it hides and sucks the life out tender stems (and fruit). Look for stem damage and wilting flower buds and fruit. In my garden I have observed them in greatest numbers on Callistemon, Australian native hibiscus, nasturtium, tomatoes, and hollyhocks. They have also been in numbers on sweetcorn, sunflowers, sage and roses.
These are one of the few bugs to actively hide from potential predators. If you watch them carefully you will notice that when they are not feeding they will stay in sheltered positions.  If they are caught out in the open they will dive behind leaves and stems as you approach. They don’t go far and sneak back out when you stop moving.  One or two bugs on their own won’t do much harm, but the sad reality is that this is often not a bug that comes in ones or twos. Not for long if you plant a tasty crop anyway. In numbers they can overwhelm tender plants, particularly nice juicy ones having a growth spurt.”  The PaDil Biosecurity Website has some information and photos.
  Your dried chili is a sign that these Harlequin Bugs are feeding.  We don’t normally provide extermination advice.  This is a native species for you that has adapted to feeding on cultivated plants.  We would recommend hand picking to control them.

Immature Harlequin Bug

Wow that was a fast response- thanks so much for the ID. Good that they aren’t harmful to my little toddler, but a pity they are sucking the life out of my chilli plant…. Don’t really enjoy getting rid of bugs but looks like I might have to if I want to keep that lovely chilli plant…
Thanks again for spending the time to find this out for me, you’re fantastic!

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What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination
Location: Australia

5 Responses to Harlequin Bug from Australia

  1. Andrew Austin says:

    Does anyone know if a species of Harlequin beetles e.g. those in UK, carry mites?
    Thanks, Andrew

  2. Elizabeth Eichner says:

    I would like to know how Harlequin Bugs get about, do they fly? We have thousands here, we have to spray them or we would have NO fruit as where they suck goes bad and destroys the fruit, namely our nectarines & now they have migrated to the apples. So we are trying to work out a plan so thats why we want to know if they fly?

  3. Chris says:

    I’ve searched everywhere for advice on eradication. Australian sites all recommend handpicking.
    Handpicking is not an option however, (as anyone in an affected zone knows) This is because they breed rapidly in plague numbers and for every ten you pick, a thousand more hatch. Advising handpicking to control these bugs is like telling farmers to handpick in a locust plague.
    US sites recommend chemical eradication however the products identified in the US are not available here.
    Finally I strongly doubt these things are natives. I’ve never seen one on a native bush.

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