Bagrada Bug Life Cycle: A Quick & Engaging Guide

The Bagrada bug, scientifically known as Bagrada hilaris, is a stink bug that targets various crops, weedy mustards, and multiple ornamental plants in the mustard family (Brassicaceae).

This insect can cause significant damage to young seedlings and leafy mustard greens, posing a threat to the agricultural sector.

Originating from Africa, the Bagrada bug has spread to various parts of the world, including the United States.

Bagrada Bug Life Cycle
African Painted Bug

Its life cycle is crucial to understanding its impact on the environment and developing effective management strategies.

While the bug is small in size, its consequences on the agriculture industry can be quite extensive.

Bagrada Bug Life Cycle

Eggs

Bagrada bugs, also known as Bagrada hilaris, lay small, barrel-shaped eggs.

Females lay eggs in clusters on various vegetable crops, weedy mustards, and ornamental plants within the mustard family (Brassicaceae)1.

Key points about Bagrada bug eggs:

  • Light yellow to white color
  • Hatch within 3-7 days

Nymphs

The nymph stage of Bagrada Hilaris consists of five developmental stages, also known as instars2.

The nymphs are initially red or orange and become darker as they mature. Essential characteristics of nymphs:

  • Approximately 1-3mm in size
  • Feed on plant tissues, causing white patches and stippling
  • Complete nymph stage in 10-14 days

African Painted Bug

Adults

Once Bagrada bugs reach adulthood, they have a shield-shaped body and bright, colorful markings3.

Distinguishing features of adult Bagrada bugs:

  • Approximately 5-7mm in length
  • Males are smaller and more slender than females
  • Multiple overlapping generations

Adults, like nymphs, also cause feeding damage to plants. They are particularly devastating to young seedlings and leafy mustard greens4.

Life StageDurationSizeCharacteristics
Eggs3-7 days (hatch time)Light yellow to white color
Nymphs10-14 days (development)1-3mmRed/orange to dark color
AdultsOverlapping generations5-7mmShield-shaped body, bright markings

Identifying Features

Appearance

Bagrada bugs are shield-shaped insects with piercing-sucking mouthparts. They have a distinctive appearance due to their unique coloration and markings.

  • Noticeable oval shape
  • White and orange markings on a mostly black body

These bugs attack various vegetable crops, weedy mustards, and ornamental plants within the mustard family (Brassicaceae) such as sweet alyssum1.

Distribution and Habitat

Geographical Range

The Bagrada bug, also known as Bagrada hilaris, is native to Africa, southern Europe, and Asia.

This invasive pest spread to California in 2008 and quickly established itself in the southwestern United States, including Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and Utah.

It has not yet been reported in states like Florida.

Feeding Damage and Impact

Agricultural Pest Impact

The Bagrada bug, also known as the painted bug, is a significant agricultural pest that mainly attacks crops within the mustard family, such as vegetables and several ornamentals.

Bagrada bugs primarily infest cole crops, mustards, and crucifers. Some examples of affected plants include:

  • Cole crops: cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower
  • Mustards: turnip, radish
  • Crucifers: sweet alyssum, stock, candytuft

These pests can also infest other crops and plants such as sorghum, potato, legumes, papaya, and caper.

They often target young seedlings and leafy mustard greens, causing substantial damage to these plants. The feeding damage can lead to:

  • Leaf spotting
  • Wilting
  • Stunting
  • Central stem tip death
Crop/PlantPreferenceSeverity of Damage
Cole cropsHighSevere
MustardsHighSevere
CrucifersModerateModerate
SorghumLowMinor
PotatoLowMinor
LegumesLowMinor
PapayaLowMinor
CaperLowMinor

Managing the Bagrada bug’s population is crucial for preventing damage to agricultural and ornamental crops in the infested regions.

Signs of Infestation

Bagrada bugs are recognized by their piercing-sucking mouthparts, which they use to feed on plants and their seeds. Signs of infestation include:

  • White patches on the leaves
  • Plants experiencing wilting or desiccation
  • Cotyledon damage in seedlings

When monitoring for Bagrada bugs, it is essential to look for these signs as well as the presence of adults and nymphs on the plants.

Control Methods

There are various control methods to manage Bagrada bug infestations, including:

  • Cultural control: Removing weeds, providing proper plant spacing, and utilizing crop rotation can help reduce the risk of a Bagrada bug infestation.
  • Biological control: Introducing natural predators or parasitoids to target Bagrada bugs can aid in controlling their population.
MethodProsCons
CulturalSustainable, cost-effectiveMay not fully eradicate the pest
BiologicalNatural, environmentally friendlyCan take time to establish, variable efficacy

Beyond Bagrada Bugs

Related Species

The Bagrada bug, or Bagrada hilaris, is often confused with the Harlequin bug, Murgantia histrionica.

Both members of the order Hemiptera and family Pentatomidae are commonly known as stink bugs. However, their appearances and features differ:

FeatureBagrada BugHarlequin Bug
ColorBlack with orange markingsBright orange with black markings
SizeSmaller (4-6 mm)Larger (7-10 mm)

While both species feed on cruciferous crops, such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and kale, differences in distribution make separation important.

Harlequin Stink Bug Nymphs

Bagrada bugs are prevalent in California, while Harlequin bugs are more widespread in the U.S.

Key differences:

  • Aggregation behavior prominently presented in Bagrada bugs
  • Harlequin bugs occasionally found on cotton

Conclusion

In summary, Bagrada bugs are insects that belong to the family Pentatomidae. They have black bodies with white and orange markings, and they emit a foul odor when disturbed.

They are native to Africa and Asia, but they have invaded parts of North America and Europe.

They feed on cruciferous plants, such as cabbage, broccoli, kale, and mustard. These bugs can cause significant damage to crops and gardens by sucking the sap and nutrients from the plants.

They can reproduce rapidly and produce multiple generations per year. Bagrada bugs are pests that pose a threat to agriculture and biodiversity.

Footnotes

  1. UC IPM – Bagrada Bug Management Guidelines  2 3
  2. Bagrada Bug: A Summertime Pest of Brassicas – University of Hawaiʻi  2 3
  3. Bagrada bug – Bagrada hilaris – Entomology and Nematology Department  2 3
  4. Bagrada Bug, Painted Bug, Bagrada Hilaris (Burmeister) (Insecta … – EDIS  2
  5. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/neonicotinoids 
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4284399/ 
  7. https://cisr.ucr.edu/invasive-species/bagrada-bug 
  8. https://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn74166.html 

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about Bagrada Bugs. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – African Painted on Orange found on Cyprus

Beetles on oranges?
Location: North Cyprus
October 20, 2011 3:04 pm
I am trying to identify this to see if it is harmful to the oranges and other citrus trees around.
Signature: Richard

African Painted Bugs, we believe

Hi Richard,
We hope we are wrong on this identification.  These sure look to us like African Painted Bugs,
Bagrada hilaris, a tiny Stink Bug that was first reported in Southern California a few years ago.  It is spreading fast. 

It is typically found in association with crops in the cabbage family.  We tried a web search for citrus and found photos of a lemon tree infested with African Painted Bugs on an Arizona Education Extension website. 

We predicted several years ago that the African Painted Bug could become the most serious new agricultural pest in Southern California.  Perhaps the African Painted Bug has also been accidentally introduced to Cyprus.

Thank you so much for your reply Daniel, I shall let you know what happens, I may need to report this to the Ministry of Agriculture here.

Letter 2 – Painted Bugs from Africa mating in Mount Washington: Bagrada hilaris

July 26, 2009
We noticed some tiny Stink Bugs on our kale and collard greens yesterday, so today we took out the camera and shot some photos.  According to BugGuide, this is a new Invasive Exotic species from Africa, Bagrada hilaris. 

It is a very small Stink Bug, about a quarter of the size of the similarly marked Harlequin Stink Bug we also photographed today.  We should try to get one more photo as a size comparison.

Mating Invasive Exotic Stink Bugs in our own garden
Mating Invasive Exotic Stink Bugs in our own garden

We went back out with the camera, placed two specimens in the freezer to slow them down, and took the following size comparison photo between Bagrada and Murgantia and then posted the images to BugGuide.

Bagrada (left) and Murgantia size comparison
Bagrada (left) and Murgantia size comparison

The Natural History of Orange County website has a nice page documenting the life history of what the County of Los Angeles Agricultural Commissioner is calling the Painted Bug in a posted pdf entitled Bagrada_hilaris.

Update:  We wrote to Stephanie at the US Department of Agriculture
Hi Stephanie,

Apparently this new African Stink Bug was first documented in Los
Angeles and Orange Counties last year.  Does anyone need specimens
before I squash what is feeding on my collard greens and kale?
Daniel Marlos

Thanks so much for letting us know. Apparantly, it has been widespread in California for a while now and has been found in La Crescenta, Altadena, Eagle Rock, Pico Rivera, Bell Gardens, Los Angeles, and Long Beach, which are in a roughly 27 x 10 mile swath north-south within the Los Angeles basin in Los Angeles County, California.


Go ahead and squash ’em. However, I won’t have to put you on the nasty reader list now, would I?
Take care,
Stephanie

Ed. Note:  On killing insects
We need to clarify several things here.  Nasty readers are people who are rude to us, not people who kill harmless insects and other arthropods out of fear or ignorance. 

We strive to educate the public regarding fierce looking, but harmless or beneficial creatures that are often squashed or that become unnecessary carnage by other means. 

We have no ethical problem with the killing of problematic species, and invasive exotic Stink Bugs feeding on our garden crop would be one of those exceptions. 

We are putting ourselves on blast here:  Yes, we will squash all the Bagrada hilaris we find on our produce since we don’t use insecticides in our vegetable patch.

Letter 3 – African Painted Bugs: Invasive species spreading in California

Bug identification and eradication question (addendum)
September 10, 2009
What is this bug, what destruction does it cause, and how do I eradicate it from my garden in a way that doesn’t negatively affect my vegetable/flower garden? Thanks!  Forget to tell you that I took this picture a few days ago (9/6/09).
Jane
Loma Linda, CA

African Painted Bugs
African Painted Bugs

Hi Jane,
We encountered this very same invasive exotic insect on our own Collard Greens and Kale this summer in our Mount Washington, Los Angeles garden.  At that time, we identified it as the Painted Bug, Bagrada hilaris, an African Stink Bug that has been reported in California since 2008. 

Then we explained that we had no ethical problem killing invasive exotic insects that devour our food.  We had squashed the few specimens we found, but as we got busy, the population got out of control. 

We eventually found hundreds on our plants and we had to rip out the kale and Collard Greens.  The next time we plant vegetables from the cabbage family, we are going to be extremely vigilant to keep the population down to a minimum. 

We don’t like to spray our food with pesticide, so we prefer to hand pick offensive species.  Since African Painted Bugs are Stink Bugs that suck juices from plants, when they are quite plentiful, they might kill the plant.   

If there are no known predators, the African Painted Bugs might become a very serious agricultural pest in California.

Letter 4 – Painted Bugs Mating: Invasive species from Africa

small black bugs with orange spots
February 13, 2010
there were hundreds of these little bugs crawling on some plants with a few dozen ladybugs mixed in, and they were about the same size. i was hiking in some hills in the los angeles area and it was yesterday, feb 12th
naaman
los angeles, ca

Painted Bugs mating

Dear naaman,
We first reported on the Painted Bugs from Africa feeding on our own Collard Greens and Kale in Mount Washington, Los Angeles in July 2009.  We believe this fecund species has the potential to become a serious pest on cruciferous plants in the cabbage family. 

BugGuide also recognizes that potential.  UC Riverside Center for Invasive Species website also recognizes the threat. 

It is interesting that in our garden as well as in your photographs, every adult seemed to have been caught in flagrante delicto, a good indication that there will soon be a new generation with even more individuals. 

From the angle of your photograph, it is difficult to ascertain the identity of the mating Lady Beetles.

Ed. Note: Additional images revealed these to be a pair of Convergent Lady Beetles, Hippodamia convergens, a native species.

Letter 5 – Painted Bug

Garden bug infestation
Location:  Southern California
August 25, 2010 11:02 pm
Hello,
I recently discovered an infestation in my flower garden by an unknown critter. I was hoping you would be able to identify him and let me know if he is safe to have around pets.

The bug has wings and is able to fly for short spurts, he does not appear to like water and retreats up the wall when the sprinklers come on.

They do however reproduce quickly as the population exploded unannounced and they are the size of my smallest fingernail.
Nicole

Painted Bug

Hi Nicole,
When the Painted Bug,
Bagrada hilaris, first appeared in our own Southern California garden last year, we quickly identified it as one of the most recent invasive exotic species to become established in California. 

The African Painted Bug feeds on plants in the cabbage family, and it proliferated on our kale and collard greens.  In the wild, it will survive on black mustard which is found growing in open spaces throughout Southern California, so it would seem this potentially serious agricultural pest is here to stay.  See BugGuide for more information.

Letter 6 – Painted Bugs

Who am I?
Location:  San Diego, CA
September 2, 2010 1:22 am
So, we found these bugs everywhere on the new vegetables that we planted. It is some sort of chinese green vegetable. ( not sure which one, as my kids dumped all the seeds in the dirt =).

There are tons of them on the ground near the sprouts and all up in them. What are they, and from the picture it looks like they are reproducing. So how do i get rid of them if they are harmful to my new plants?
Jeanine

Mating Painted Bugs

Hi Jeanine,
In our opinion, the African Painted Bugs,
Bagrada hilaris, which were first reported in California just two years ago, will go down in history as being one of the most problematic Exotic Invasive agricultural pests due to their fondness for sucking the juices from plants in the cabbage family. 

We first noticed hoards of them on our collard greens last summer.  It seems mating is the main objective of every adult, and mating pairs like the ones in your photograph seem to be more common than single individuals.

FUN!  thank you so much for identifying it for us! my kids will be delighted.   Do you know any ways to rid of it?
jeanine

Letter 7 – Painted Bugs

Swarming African Painted Beetles
Location:  San Jacinto
September 2, 2010 11:20 am
To WTB – thought you might be interested in these pictures of swarming African Painted Beetles all over the buildings of Mt San Jacinto College in San Jacinto, Ca. Looks like this little pest will be quite a force to contend with!
PS, have loved your fantasic site for years and recommend it to everyone.
Signature:  Jennifer

Painted Bugs

Hi Jennifer,
Thanks for the compliment.  Your Painted Bugs are not beetles, but Stink Bugs in the family Pentatomidae.  As we just mentioned, we predict they are going to become one of the most problematic invasive exotic species to proliferate in California in decades. 

This aggregation on the side of a building is a new habitat of the Painted Bugs for us.  This marks the first time we have seen images of them not feeding on plants in the cabbage family.

Letter 8 – Painted Bug

A Milkweed Bug is a Milkweed Bug is a Milkweed Bug?
Location:  Towsley Canyon State Park. Los Angeles County
September 12, 2010 9:57 pm
Hey there,
Found these guys all over the dry grass tonight on my hike through Towsley Canyon. My first guess is that it was a Milkweed Bug instar. Hard to tell the shape is more Pentatomid but not quite.
That and they were tiny maybe 3mm to 4mm.
Sorry for the flash sun had already dropped behind the hill.
Signature:  Chris Irons

Painted Bug

Dear Chris,
The African Painted Bug,
Bagrada hilaris, one of the Stink Bugs, was first reported in Los Angeles in 2008.  Since then it has spread rapidly.  It feeds upon plants in the cabbage family including the wild mustard you have photographed it upon.

Letter 9 – Invasive Painted Bugs

Subject: Garden Bug
Location: Riverside,Ca
September 15, 2013 3:03 pm
Haven’t seen this bug around and it came out of now where.
Signature: Thank you, Victoria

Painted Bugs
Painted Bugs

Hi Victoria,
We first noticed invasive African Painted Bugs,
Bagrada hilaris, in our garden in 2009 when they infested our kale and collard greens, and we learned that they were first sited in Los Angeles County the year before. 

Since that time, they have spread throughout southern California and Arizona and according to BugGuide, they have moved through the southwest as far as Texas. 

They really did come out of nowhere and they have spread rapidly.  We predicted shortly after our first sighting that they would become a major agricultural pest since they prefer plants in the cabbage family, they seem to reproduce quickly and to the best of our knowledge, they don’t have any natural enemies in North America. 

Now that you have a name, you should be able to find information online, including UC Riverside Center for Invasive Species Research, Infonet-Biovision and the San Diego County Master Gardener Association

Authors

  • Daniel Marlos

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

9 thoughts on “Bagrada Bug Life Cycle: A Quick & Engaging Guide”

  1. I live in Mid City Los Angeles (Pico/Fairfax) and two days ago noticed that one of my collard plants is totally infested. They’ve also attacked kale seedlings as of yesterday. I’ve got neem spray but it doesn’t seem to affect they at all.

    How do I erradicate these monsters?
    My garden is organic so far….?

    Reply
  2. A heavy infestation of Bagrada hilaris has been observed on clementine oranges. The feeding of the bugs seems to have caused premature fruit color change from green to orange followed by massive fruit drop. (Oct, 2, 2012)
    This observation was made on a backyard tree located on the southern coastal plain of Israel.
    This host/pest association is of particular note since, other than one picture posted on the internet (on this site, from Cyprus), citrus has not previously been reported as a host of this insect nor been reported to suffer damage from its feeding.

    Reply
    • Thank you for your comment. If African Painted Bugs are truly pests that will infest citrus trees, the California agricultural industry will have a new invasive exotic species to contend with.

      Reply
  3. We finally got a positive ID from What’s That Bug – those little beasties are all over our figs. Will report and try to eradicate them ASAP. We are in northern San Diego County – no idea how they got here.

    Reply
  4. We had them about 3 years ago and they destroyed 1st my tomatoes then the broccoli and even my alysum flowers. We even moved the garden to the other side of the yard. Its been great til today when I noticed them on my tomatoes again! I’m so frustrated!

    Reply
    • We are surprised that they attacked tomato plants. It is our understanding that they prefer plants in the cabbage family Brassicaceae to which Alyssum belongs.

      Reply
  5. I was talking to one of my conservationist sons about how Bagrada bugs ruined my garden a few years ago, and he said, “Oh, Bagrada bugs. We’re not worried about them anymore …” and listed a dozen new, horrible pests I had never heard of. “Bagrada bugs are sooo ’90’s, Mom.”

    Reply
  6. I just noticed a few days ago that my kale in a screen cage has these bugs and don’t know what are they. At first I thought it was lady bug larvae. It took me half a day researching today and was happy to land here. Thanks

    Reply

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