Chinch Bugs Life Cycle: A Quick Guide to Understand These Tiny Pests

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Chinch bugs can cause significant damage to lawns and gardens due to their feeding habits. These small pests, measuring around 1/16-inch long as adults, have distinct appearances in different stages of their life cycle. During their early stages, known as nymphs, they appear red or orange, while adult chinch bugs are black with white wings and red legs.

Understanding the life cycle of chinch bugs is important for homeowners and gardeners alike, as it can help them take appropriate measures to protect their plants. These pesky insects are most active during warmer months, but their infestations might go unnoticed due to their small size and natural coloration that blends in with their surroundings.

The life cycle of chinch bugs involves overwintering adults, who emerge from sheltered areas in spring and lay eggs on grass plants. After hatching, the nymphs begin feeding on the grass, damaging the lawn and plants in the process. By knowing the stages and signs of chinch bug infestations, one can take preventive and corrective actions to ensure their lawns and gardens remain healthy and free from these destructive pests.

Chinch Bug Life Cycle

Eggs

Chinch bugs begin their life cycle as eggs, which are typically deposited behind leaf sheaths or in the soil near the base of grass plants (Oklahoma State University). Egg-laying occurs when temperatures reach around 70°F, generally in May (UNH Extension). A single female can lay up to 250 eggs in her lifetime.

Nymphs

Once the eggs hatch, nymphs emerge and start feeding on grass plants. Nymphs change in appearance as they grow:

  • First-stage nymphs are about 0.04 inches long and orange or red with a white band.
  • Later nymph stages become darker in color, reaching about 0.1 inches in length (NC State Extension).

Nymphs often cause noticeable damage to lawns as their feeding weakens grass plants.

Adults

As the nymphs grow, they gradually develop into black, winged adults:

  • Size: approximately 0.1-0.2 inches long (NC State Extension)
  • Wings: shiny white with a distinctive, triangular black mark
  • Similarity: resemble big-eyed bugs, but shouldn’t be confused

Comparison Table: Chinch Bug Stages

Stage Length Color and Appearance
Egg Tiny, hidden behind leaf sheaths or in soil
Nymph 0.04-0.1″ Orange/red with white band (early); darker with growth
Adult 0.1-0.2″ Black, winged; white wings with distinct triangular marking

During winter months, chinch bugs overwinter as adults in protected areas, such as among weeds and grasses (Oklahoma State University). This hibernation period allows them to survive until spring, when they emerge to continue their life cycle.

Identification and Types of Chinch Bugs

Southern Chinch Bug

The Southern chinch bug, Blissus insularis, is an oblong, oval-shaped insect native to the southeastern United States. Adult bugs are black with shiny white wings, and each wing bears a distinctive, triangular black mark1. Their size ranges from 0.1 to 0.2 inches1.

Some features of Southern chinch bugs include:

  • Small size: 0.1-0.2 inches long
  • Black body with white wings
  • Triangular black mark on each wing

Chinch bug nymphs are smaller, measuring between 0.04 and 0.1 inches long1. They undergo different color and appearance changes as they grow.

Hairy Chinch Bug

The Hairy chinch bug, Blissus leucopterus, is another type of chinch bug that can infest lawns and golf courses, particularly in regions with fine fescue and Kentucky bluegrass2. They are similar in size to their Southern counterparts, but exhibit several distinguishing features:

  • Small and hairy: hence the name “Hairy chinch bug”
  • Red legs and white wings
  • Wingless nymphs appearing completely red3

These insects damage grass by piercing plants with their needle-like mouthparts and sucking plant juices3.

Comparison Table

Southern Chinch Bug Hairy Chinch Bug
Species Blissus insularis1 Blissus leucopterus2
Size 0.1-0.2 inches1 Similar to Southern chinch bug2
Wings Shiny white wings with a black triangular mark1 White wings3
Nymphs Color changes as they grow1 Red and wingless3
Habitat Southeastern United States1 Fine fescue and Kentucky bluegrass lawns2

Chinch Bug Damage and Infestation Signs

Thatch and Grass Damage

Chinch bugs cause damage to lawns by sucking plant juices using their needle-like mouthparts. They tend to attack grasses like bluegrass and fescues, causing harms to both the grass blades and the thatch layer.

Chinch bug damage includes:

  • Dead and dying grass plants
  • Small black bugs in the thatch layer

This damage is most evident during warmer months and can be spotted when observing a mixture of dead or dry grass alongside the healthy green ones.

Yellow Patches and Dry Grass

Yellow patches and dry grass are common signs of chinch bug infestations. The damage caused by chinch bugs often resembles drought stress. However, unlike drought, chinch bug damage does not recover after rain, making it distinguishable.

Common indicators of chinch bug infestations:

  • Patches of turf turning brown in summer
  • Grass not recovering after rainfall

It is essential to inspect the border between brown and green grass for the presence of adult chinch bugs or their orange nymphs to confirm an infestation. Keep in mind that not all brown grass indicates chinch bug presence; other factors like dehydration or lawn diseases may also cause similar signs.

Prevention and Control Measures

Resistant Turfgrass Varieties

One way to prevent chinch bug infestations is to use resistant turfgrass varieties like:

  • Zoysia grass
  • Bermuda grass
  • Tall fescue
  • Centipedegrass
  • Bahiagrass

These grasses have endophyte to provide natural resistance to chinch bugs.

Proper Watering and Lawn Care

  • Keep lawns healthy by irrigating. Water deeply and infrequently to reduce stress and discourage chinch bug reproduction.
  • Mow at appropriate heights and keep your lawn free of excessive thatch.
  • Avoid over-fertilizing; excess nitrogen can attract chinch bugs.

Biological Control

Introduce natural enemies of chinch bugs:

  • Big-eyed bugs
  • Ground beetles
  • Nysius raphanus

These predators help reduce chinch bug populations naturally.

Chemical Insecticides

When infestations occur, apply chemical insecticides like:

  • Bifenthrin
  • Carbaryl
  • Trichlorfon
  • Pyrethroids

Use a spot treatment on affected areas first. Avoid overuse to prevent harm to beneficial insects.

Pros Cons
Effective when properly applied Can harm non-target insects and beneficial predators
Quick results Some chinch bugs can develop resistance

Note: Conduct a float test to confirm chinch bug presence before applying insecticides.

Role of Beneficial Insects

Ladybugs

  • Ladybugs are a type of beneficial insect that helps control chinch bug populations.
  • They feed on chinch bugs and other pests, reducing the need for chemical interventions.

Ground Beetles

  • Another ally in the fight against chinch bugs are ground beetles.
  • These insects are known for their voracious appetite for chinch bugs and other lawn pests.

Big-Eyed Bugs

  • Big-eyed bugs are often mistaken for chinch bugs, but they’re actually beneficial insects.
  • They can be distinguished by their large, bulging eyes and quick movements, as mentioned by the MSU Extension.
Feature Ladybugs Ground Beetles Big-Eyed Bugs
Appearance Small, round, and often red with black spots Elongated, black or dark-colored Gray to silver color, large, bulging eyes
Pest Control Feed on chinch bugs and other pests Voracious predator of chinch bugs and other lawn pests Feed on chinch bugs and various small insects

By encouraging the presence of these beneficial insects in your yard, you can help maintain a healthy ecosystem that keeps chinch bug populations in check.

Footnotes

  1. Chinch Bug | NC State Extension 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

  2. Chinch Bugs – Penn State Extension 2 3 4

  3. Hairy Chinch Bug [fact sheet] | Extension 2 3 4

Reader Emails

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

Letter 1 – Tiny Bugs in Montana might be Dirt Colored Seed Bugs or False Chinch Bugs

 

Subject: Tiny beetles (?) in Montana
Location: Near Gardiner Montana
November 12, 2012 2:46 pm
On August 5, 2005 I came upon this ground swarm of tiny bugs, about the size of sesame seeds or a little larger. They were racing across the ground like swarming ants; some were grouped together in clumps. They did not fly.
This is an area of foothills at an elevation of about 5500 feet near Gardiner Montana at the north entrance to Yellowstone Park. Vegetation was grass and greasewood and scattered prickly pear cactus. I’ll include two photos of the bugs, plus one photo showing the area where they were. I have a video of them racing across the ground but it doesn’t look like I can post a video.
Signature: Randy

True Bugs

Hi Randy,
We will work on this ID as soon as we finish planting onions and sugar snap peas before the sun goes down.  These are not beetles.  They are True Bugs.  They resemble Chinch Bugs.

Gardiner Montana a mile high

Ed. Note:  A short while later.
We really love that you have shown a photo of the habitat.  That might turn out to be especially significant.

Numerous Small Bugs

We are wondering if these might be some species of Dirt Colored Seed Bug in the family Rhyparochromidae.

Eric Eaton agrees.
Daniel:
They are all nymphs, so I don’t know that they can be easily placed…..Dirt-colored seed bugs would be my first thought as well, but I just can’t be totally positive.
Eric

Randy Responds
I don’t see a way to respond to your answer on the website.  But I did some googling after reading your response.  It’s pretty clear these are False Chinch Bugs.  Do a google image search for False Chinch Bugs and you’ll see these.  Apparently mine are in the nymph stage.  One website explains they often feed on plant seeds in the mustard family… one of my pics coincidentally shows a dried seedstalk (laying horizontally) of a pepper grass plant — in the mustard family.  Very cool.  THANK YOU!!  -Randy

Ed. Note:  November 14, 2012
Despite Randy’s confidence that these little nymphs are False Chinch Bugs, we side with Eric because nymphs can be so difficult to identify.  It can be extremely difficult to identify Hemipteran nymphs with any accuracy from a photograph, especially when there are no adults present.  The remote location of this sighting might mean this is a native species with a very localized distribution. 

Update:  October 7, 2013
We are wondering if these might be immature
Rhyparochromus vulgaris, a recent introduction to the Pacific Northwest.


Letter 2 – Chinch Bugs: Poor advice followed by Organic Solution

 

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.
Thanks,
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. http://envirocancer.cornell.edu/FactSheet/Pesticide/fs28.diazinon.cfm 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: http://versicolor.ca/lawns/ 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.
Carol

Reader Emails

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

Letter 1 – Tiny Bugs in Montana might be Dirt Colored Seed Bugs or False Chinch Bugs

 

Subject: Tiny beetles (?) in Montana
Location: Near Gardiner Montana
November 12, 2012 2:46 pm
On August 5, 2005 I came upon this ground swarm of tiny bugs, about the size of sesame seeds or a little larger. They were racing across the ground like swarming ants; some were grouped together in clumps. They did not fly.
This is an area of foothills at an elevation of about 5500 feet near Gardiner Montana at the north entrance to Yellowstone Park. Vegetation was grass and greasewood and scattered prickly pear cactus. I’ll include two photos of the bugs, plus one photo showing the area where they were. I have a video of them racing across the ground but it doesn’t look like I can post a video.
Signature: Randy

True Bugs

Hi Randy,
We will work on this ID as soon as we finish planting onions and sugar snap peas before the sun goes down.  These are not beetles.  They are True Bugs.  They resemble Chinch Bugs.

Gardiner Montana a mile high

Ed. Note:  A short while later.
We really love that you have shown a photo of the habitat.  That might turn out to be especially significant.

Numerous Small Bugs

We are wondering if these might be some species of Dirt Colored Seed Bug in the family Rhyparochromidae.

Eric Eaton agrees.
Daniel:
They are all nymphs, so I don’t know that they can be easily placed…..Dirt-colored seed bugs would be my first thought as well, but I just can’t be totally positive.
Eric

Randy Responds
I don’t see a way to respond to your answer on the website.  But I did some googling after reading your response.  It’s pretty clear these are False Chinch Bugs.  Do a google image search for False Chinch Bugs and you’ll see these.  Apparently mine are in the nymph stage.  One website explains they often feed on plant seeds in the mustard family… one of my pics coincidentally shows a dried seedstalk (laying horizontally) of a pepper grass plant — in the mustard family.  Very cool.  THANK YOU!!  -Randy

Ed. Note:  November 14, 2012
Despite Randy’s confidence that these little nymphs are False Chinch Bugs, we side with Eric because nymphs can be so difficult to identify.  It can be extremely difficult to identify Hemipteran nymphs with any accuracy from a photograph, especially when there are no adults present.  The remote location of this sighting might mean this is a native species with a very localized distribution. 

Update:  October 7, 2013
We are wondering if these might be immature
Rhyparochromus vulgaris, a recent introduction to the Pacific Northwest.


Letter 2 – Chinch Bugs: Poor advice followed by Organic Solution

 

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.
Thanks,
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. http://envirocancer.cornell.edu/FactSheet/Pesticide/fs28.diazinon.cfm 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: http://versicolor.ca/lawns/ 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.
Carol

Authors

  • Bugman

    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.

    View all posts
  • 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.

    View all posts
Tags: Chinch Bug

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