Currently viewing the category: "True Bugs"

Hi Daniel,
I’m having an ongoing problem with what I’m told are grubs in my St. Augustin grass. Each summer I get these patches which turn yellow/ brown and die out, just as if I hadn’t watered them in ages, which is, of course, not the case. Apparently they eat the roots of the grass causing the tops to die. I have usually spread grub killer and that seems to take care of it. The problem is that the grub killer, called “Seven,” I believe, is super toxic, indicating the need to wear socks, long pants, gloves, respirator (my addition), etc. Do you know of any similar remedy for grubs that would not be so environmentally horrendous? I have three cats who live in this grass daily and I don’t want one of them to start growing an extra head or some other such gruesome mutation. Caroline, a Manx, already has all the extra toes she can handle.
Kathleen (a.k.a. Toxic Avenger)

Dear Kathleen,
I can think of three possible culprits for your St. Agustine grass problem, the likliest one being the chinch bug, Blissus insularis, small gray-black insects that suck plant juices from grass blades, especially St. Agustine grass, especially in hot weather. To confirm chinch bugs, according to the Western Garden Book , push a bottomless can into the soil just where the grass is beginning to turn brown. Fill can with water, If lawn is infested, chinch bugs will float to the surface. Diazinon and chlorpyrifos are chemical controls. According to Hogue, the Southern Chinch Bug feeds on several grasses, but Saint Augustine is by far the preferred host plant. The insect’s feeding may cause considerable damage: the grass becomes dwarfed, turns yellow and then brown, and dies. Because of the tendency of the species to form aggregations, the symptoms of attack are usually visible in scattered patches. The species is not a native. It first appeared in the Los Angeles area in the late 1960’s, having come from the southeastern states. It produces two generations per year and is most abundant in midsummer. Two additional possible culprits that require the same chemical control are Sod Webworms and beetle grubs. If you see whitish to buff colored moths flying around the lawn in a zigzag pattern at night, check for their larvae. To confirm Sod Webworms, drench area of lawn with a solution of 1 tablespoon dishwashing soap diluted in 1 gallon of water. Larvae will come to surface. Treat if there are 15 or more webworms per square yard.

Update: (07/13/2008)
organic solutions
Bugman, I love your web site but in a recent post (see below), you recommended some harsh chemicals to get rid of chinch bugs. Diazinon has been banned on golf courses because it kills birds. Could you also recommend organic alternatives to bug control? Lots of lawn problems are caused by over fertilizing and overwatering the lawn rather than building up the soil itself. Here’s a web site with ideas for controlling chinch bugs without pesticides: chinchNOW.html#action1 I live in a house built in 1908 in Massachusetts and I figure the lawn is an old pasture. The grass and clover lawn is deep rooted and survives even the longest droughts. I never water or fertilize. I just mow high with a mulching mower that basically chops up the grass blades and creates compost every time I mow. When friends complain about grubs, I don’t have a thing to add because the lawn is evidently so healthy that they don’t thrive. And if a drought is long enough to turn the grass brown, I still don’t worry, because the roots are healthy so the next rain brings back the green growth. Plus I see loads of butterflies, dragonflies, fireflies, interesting bugs, birds and other critters all summer long. Lots of builders strip the existing topsoil off a site (to sell to landscapers) and replace it with a shallow layer of topsoil, then seed it with grass that can never establish really deep roots in that thin layer. The homeowner is then stuck in a cycle of watering and fertilizing. If you dig into your lawn, you can figure out how deep the topsoil actually is. If it’s shallow, get a couple truckloads of topsoil laid down so you have a good 8-12 inches of soil, add a few inches of compost (which is often free from your city recycling center), re-establish the lawn with grasses that do well locally and then mow high with a mulching mower. You can save on your water bill while avoiding toxic chemicals that could hurt your kids, pets, birds and bugs. Thanks, Bugman, for a fantastic and fascinating site.

I am needing a little guidance from you. In the last 2 nights, I have discovered 2 large shiny green bugs in my bed! They were about 3/4 of an inch long and about 1/2 inch wide and look like a beetle variety. They have long legs and do emit an odor when I was chasing it. Both times, they were crawling on my bed and I heard them flying about my room. I don’t know if they are stink bugs, since I know other bugs do emit odors. I am wondering what I can do to get rid of these pests because I don’t want to get back into bed! Please help me.

Dear April,
Though you provided no geographical information which could help in my identification of local species, I think your guess that the large shiny green bugs in your bed might be stink bugs could be correct. Here in Los Angeles, we have two species of green stink bugs belonging to the family Pentatomidae, both of the genus Chlorochroa, from the Greek chlôros which means "yellow-green". They are the same general size that you describe.
Stinkbugs are true bugs, not beetles since they undergo incomplete, not complete metamorphosis. They are not shiny like a tiger beetle, but they are a vivid green. Tiger beetles, family Cicindelidae, are often a shiny, metalic green or blue green, and have very long legs that they use to chase down their prey. They are good fliers, often being mistaken for flies, but they like sunny weather and don’t emit an offensive odor. Stink bugs, on the other hand do emit an offensive odor as a defense mechanism, and are often attracted to lights at night, which could explain how they wound up in your bed. Probably the last lights you turned off in the house before retiring were in your bedroom, luring the stink bugs to your bed. Conserving electricity by keeping fewer lights on in the home might keep unwanted visitors from your bed.


Dear Stat,
Without more concrete information regarding size and orientation of the stripes, vertical versus horizontal, it would be difficult to identify your bug. Wood boring beetles are often of the longhorn variety, and though they are not true beetles, the box elder bug (Leptocoris trivittatus) might be your culprit, but they eat leaves, not rotting wood. Rove beetles look like fireflies, but their wings are hidden. They might lurk around rotting wood, searching for soft succulent prey. Can you send a photo?

MY name is joey. Today a bug fell of my wall the bug is mostly orange with black stripes and when i squeshed it it smelt really bad. it had six legs and like a spout like thing under its head the back is like a oval. I was just wondering what it was and if it was harmful. I live in VA to if that helps please write back sone the bug was half a starburst or a little more
Dear Joey,
The reason your bug smelt so badly is because it was probably a type of stink bug (family Pentatomidae) of the harlequin variety. They are true bugs, hence the sucking mouthparts which may look like a spout. They are not harmful to humans, except for the foul smelling odor which they emit from glands near the hind legs. The odor serves to discourage or repel enemies. The harlequin stink bug can be harmful to plants, especially those of the cabbage family, and they use their sucking mouthparts to withdraw vital fluids from their hosts, occasionally causing major damage when large numbers of bugs are present.
—Daniel Marlos "What’s That Bug?"

We just bought an old house and in the basement and on the lower outside walls of the house we have an infestation (I mean millions) of black bugs with thin, neatly drawn orange lines outlining their backs/wings. Thee bugs have narrow bodies, are about 3/4 of an inch long, and have long antennae. They fly occasionally, but mostly just crawl around, and they sit in large clusters–they pile right on top of each other. Strangely, we also have lots of lady bugs mixing in with them. I live in southern York county, PA (on the PA/MD line) and we have had an unusually warm winter.
Any idea what the black bugs are, why they and the lady
bugs are here, whether they are doing damage and what I can
do to get rid of them and prevent them from returning?
Many, many thanks.

Does this look familiar?

Dear Tricia,
Ladybugs are famous for communal hibernation, generally in mountainous areas. In recent years though, throughout the Eastern states, they have begun to invade homes. My internet search turned up this quote from the site :

"People first started reporting large aggregations of lady beetles (ladybugs) on homes and buildings in Kentucky during the fall of 1993. Ladybugs are normally considered beneficial insects because they feed outdoors on aphids and other harmful plant pests. However, these beetles are congregating on the sides of buildings, and if given the opportunity, moving
inside. Lady beetles do not sting or carry diseases, nor do they infest food, clothing, or wood. Nonetheless, this particular species (Harmonia axyridis) can become a nuisance when large numbers begin crawling on windows, walls, light fixtures, and other indoor surfaces. When disturbed, they also secrete a foul-smelling orange-colored fluid that can spot and stain walls, carpeting, and other surfaces….
Because the Asian lady beetle is a tree-dwelling insect, homes and buildings in forested areas are especially prone to infestation. Suburban and landscaped industrial settings adjacent to wooded areas have also had large lady beetle aggregations. Once the beetles land on the sunny side of the
building, they attempt to locate cracks and other dark openings for hibernation sites. These locations may ultimately be on any side of the structure. Common overwintering sites include cracks and crevices around window and door frames, porches, garages and outbuildings, beneath exterior siding and roof shingles, and within wall voids, attics, and soffits. Structures in poor repair or with many cracks and openings are especially vulnerable to problems."

The site goes on to recomment removing the ladybugs with a vacuum cleaner. Your other insect is most probably a box elder bug (Leptocoris trivittatus).
On it says, "When present in large enough numbers Box Elder Bugs can do damage to Manitoba Maple trees. Most people call us in the fall because they are curious about the large numbers on the walls of their houses or concerned about the numbers that are getting in the houses. Washing them off the walls of the house with a blast of cold water from a hose may help. The only way to ensure that they do not get inside the house is to fill in all
cracks where they could be getting in, a rather daunting and expensive task."
Though each of these insects is known to form communes, I have never heard of them bedding down together, but they’re not the strangest bedfellows I’ve encountered by far.

daniel, you are my hero. Many thanks for your help. We’re promptly getting out the hose and starting to fill in cracks–and I’m sleeping much better knowing that neither bug is eating my house into sawdust. What a valuable service you perform for those of us who are bug-clueless!
Many thanks again.