What Eats Squash Bugs: Discover Their Natural Predators

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Squash bugs are a common and frustrating problem for many home gardeners. These pesky insects can cause significant damage to your squash and pumpkin plants, making it essential to understand what eats them. In this article, we’ll discuss some natural predators of squash bugs that can help you protect your plants and ensure a bountiful harvest.

You may be surprised to learn there are several insects and arachnids that feed on squash bugs. Some examples of these predators include ladybugs, lacewings, spiders, and parasitic wasps. By encouraging these helpful creatures to visit your garden, you can reduce the populations of squash bugs and minimize the damage they cause.

In addition to predators, natural controls like diatomaceous earth and insecticidal soaps can be effective against squash bugs. These methods can be combined with biological control techniques to create a more comprehensive strategy for dealing with these pests. With some vigilance and the right approach, you can keep squash bugs at bay and enjoy a healthy, thriving garden.

Understanding Squash Bug

Identifying Adult Squash Bug

Adult squash bugs, scientifically known as Anasa tristis, are large insects with a flattened appearance. They usually measure around 5/8 inch in length and come in colors ranging from dark gray to dark brown. One notable feature of these adult bugs is the triangular-shaped thorax area right behind their head1.

To identify an adult squash bug, pay attention to the following characteristics:

  • 5/8 inch long
  • Dark gray or dark brown color
  • Triangular-shaped thorax

Identifying Squash Bug Nymphs

Nymphs are the immature stage of squash bugs. When they first hatch from their eggs, they have a black head and legs paired with light green bodies2. As they grow and develop, their color changes to light gray, eventually transforming into adult squash bugs.

Take note of these features to identify squash bug nymphs:

  • Black head and legs
  • Light green body (newly hatched)
  • Light gray body (mature nymphs)

In conclusion, recognizing both adult squash bugs and nymphs is essential for gardeners dealing with these pests. Identifying them in their different stages helps ensure proper management and control methods are used to keep squash plants healthy and bug-free.

Squash Bug Life Cycle

Egg Stage

Squash bug eggs are shiny, slightly oval, and copper colored. Female squash bugs lay clusters of eggs, usually in the angles formed by leaf veins. These eggs will hatch in about 1-2 weeks, depending on temperature conditions.

Nymph Stage

When the eggs hatch, small nymphs emerge. Nymphs go through five growth stages, reaching from 1/10 to 1/2 inch in size. As they mature, their color changes from greenish to grayish brown. Nymphs feed on your squash plants’ sap, causing damage to the leaves and overall plant health.

Adult Stage

In the adult stage, squash bugs are flattened, large insects measuring 5/8 inch long, usually dark gray to dark brown. Their abdomens have alternating orange and brown stripes. Squash bugs mate in the spring, and after laying eggs, they continue to feed on your plants throughout the summer. Adult squash bugs overwinter, seeking shelter under plant debris or other suitable hiding spots. They emerge again in the spring, ready to find new host plants and continue the life cycle.

Damage Caused by Squash Bug

On Squash

Squash bugs can cause significant damage to your squash plants. They feed on the sap of leaves, causing them to wilt and eventually turn brown. Young plants are particularly vulnerable, as squash bugs can lead to stunted growth and even kill them.

In addition to wilting, the leaves may also develop yellow spots or bacterial wilt, which can further weaken your squash plants.

On Pumpkins

Pumpkins are not as susceptible to squash bug damage as squash plants, but they can still be affected. Similar to squash, squash bugs can feed on the sap of pumpkin leaves, causing the leaves to wilt and turn brown.

Pumpkins may experience some yield loss due to the feeding of squash bugs on their leaves, stems, and flowers, but resistant cultivars can help maintain healthy pumpkin plants.

On Zucchini

Squash bugs can be harmful to zucchini plants as well. These insects feed on the sap of zucchini leaves, causing them to wilt and potentially develop bacterial wilt. Severe infestations can lead to yield loss and damage to the fruit.

Using integrated pest management techniques can help protect your zucchini plants from squash bug damage.

On Cucumbers

Cucumbers are also susceptible to the damage caused by squash bugs. They feed on the undersides of cucumber leaves, leading to wilting, yellow spots, and eventual browning.

Much like squash, pumpkins, and zucchini, cucumbers may suffer from bacterial wilt due to squash bug feeding. It is essential to monitor your cucumber plants regularly and treat infestations quickly to ensure a healthy crop.

Squash Bug Control Methods

Physical Pest Control

One effective way to control squash bugs is by using physical pest control methods. For instance, you can:

  • Handpick: Remove squash bugs by hand and drop them in soapy water to kill them.
  • Trap: Lay boards near your plants. Squash bugs will gather under them, making it easy for you to catch and dispose of them.

Remember to check for squash bug eggs on the underside of leaves and remove them as well.

Chemical Pest Control

If physical methods are insufficient, you can resort to chemical pest control methods. However, be cautious when using chemicals as they may harm pollinators or other beneficial insects in your garden. Some options include:

  • Insecticides: Apply insecticides labeled for squash bug control. Always follow the instructions on the label.
  • Neem oil: This natural insecticide can help control squash bugs without harming beneficial insects as much.
Method Pros Cons
Insecticides Effective at killing squash bugs Can harm pollinators and beneficial insects
Neem oil Less harmful to beneficial insects May be less effective than insecticides

Natural Pest Control

For a more eco-friendly approach, opt for natural pest control methods. These include:

  • Beneficial insects: Encourage natural predators like ladybugs, lacewings, and parasitic wasps into your garden to help control squash bug populations.
  • Clean up: Remove garden debris, such as fallen leaves, to eliminate hiding places for overwintering squash bugs.

By combining these methods, you can effectively manage and reduce squash bug populations in your home garden or yard.

Bug Control Recommendation Tool

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Preventing Squash Bug Infestations

Cultivation Practices

To minimize the chances of a squash bug infestation, it’s essential to maintain a clean garden. Remove any plant debris, such as leaves and twigs, as these can harbor pests. Mulching with straw can also discourage squash bugs from laying eggs. Another good practice is to inspect your plants regularly for signs of infestation, so you can act promptly to control the pests.

Examples of resistant cucumber varieties include Marketmore 76 and County Fair. Planting these varieties may help reduce the risk of infestation by squash bugs and cucumber beetles.

Using Protective Coverings

Using protective covers, such as floating row covers or insect netting, can help keep squash bugs away from your plants during the growing season. Here’s how these two methods compare:

Covering Type Pros Cons
Floating Row Cover Lightweight, easy to use, provides a barrier against pests Needs to be removed for pollination, might trap heat
Insect Netting Durable, barrier against pests, allows pollination Can be more expensive, might require a support structure

Make sure to secure the edges of the coverings to prevent squash bugs from slipping underneath.

Crop Rotation

Squash bugs tend to overwinter in plant debris, so rotating your vegetable crops can help interrupt their life cycle. Here are some tips for implementing crop rotation in your garden:

  • Avoid planting cucurbits (squash, cucumbers, pumpkins, etc.) in the same location two years in a row.
  • Follow a squash planting with a vegetable from a different family, such as tomatoes, beans, or lettuce.
  • If possible, rotate your entire garden to a new location every few years. This can help prevent the buildup of pest populations in the soil.

By following these preventive measures, you can reduce the risk of a squash bug infestation in your garden and enjoy a successful growing season.

Footnotes

  1. Squash bugs in home gardens | UMN Extension
  2. Lookout for Squash Bugs | Extension Marketing and Communications

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 – Squash Bug eggs and hatchlings

 

Unknown Garden Bug
Location:  Aiken, South Carolina
July 24, 2010 8:39 am
We found these eggs and hatchlings in our vegetable garden.
James

Squash Bug Eggs

Hi James,
Eggs and hatchlings are often very difficult to identify properly, but we believe these hatchlings look like Leaf Footed Bugs in the family Coreidae.  We thought Squash Bugs in the genus
Anasa seemed a likely candidate, so we checked out that possibility on BugGuide.  Bingo, the eggs matched an image of Squash Bug Eggs, Anasa tristis, posted on BugGuide. BugGuide has nice images of the life cycle of the Squash Bug, and the following information may be of interest to you:  “Hosts on most species/varieties of cucurbits (plants in the squash family) but prefers to lay eggs on pumpkin and squash” and “This is the most injurious species of coreid in Florida (3)  Injects a toxic saliva into plants, causing wilting and blackening of leaves. Can also act as vector of cucurbit yellow vine disease, which kills plants.

Letter 2 – Squash Bug and Ant

 

Subject: Suspected phoresy on squash bug actually battle casualty?
Location: Pelham, Ontario, Canada
April 28, 2017 7:00 am
Hi! Love the site – long time viewer and occasional contributor!
I was at a golf club and spotted a true bug, which I think may be a squash bug. Sorry for the blurry photo — can you help with ID? I supplied a second shot of the head, which is what made me think it was a squash bug – it is similar to BugGuide photos.
After looking at my photo on my camera’s screen, I noticed something attached to the bug’s antenna. I was excited at first because I like pseudoscorpions and I thought I might be seeing pseudoscorpion phoresy, like in some other excellent photos on your website. I flipped my lens around to attempt some reverse macro shots and although those were blurry too I did manage to get a few somewhat in focus.. and it looks like what I thought was phoresy was actually the results from a battle between the squash bug and some ants. There’s an ant — it looks like it could be quite dead, although it might just be quite tenacious — firmly affixed to the antenna of the squash bug. In one of the photos you can clearly see the ant’s sharp mandible sliced into the antenna.
Anyway, I thought you might like the story and the photos. Love the site!
Signature: Brad

Squash Bug

Dear Brad,
Thanks so much for the compliment.  We agree, based on comparison with this BugGuide image, that you found a Squash Bug in the genus
Anasa.  We do not believe the Ant on the antenna can be classified as phoresy which is defined on Amateur Entomologists Society as “Phoresy is the act of ‘hitching a lift’ on another organism. As invertebrates are small and not all have wings many travel comparatively long distances by using other, more mobile, organisms. …  Another good example is that of pseudoscorpions are small arachnids that resemble scorpions without the long tail and sting. When a flying insect lands nearby the pseudoscorpions grab hold of the larger insect using their pincers. When the insect flies to a new location they carry the pseudoscorpion with them.”  Since Ants are social creatures that depend upon being able to find their way back to the colony, phoresy would have no advantage to the Ant.  We agree with your “battle” supposition, so we will tag this as Food Chain.  We noticed the spines on the thorax of the Ant, and we wonder if it might be an Acrobat Ant in the genus Crematogaster which is pictured on BugGuide.  According to BugGuide:  “workers and males 2.5-3.5mm.”  Bugs in the News provides some very interesting information on Acrobat Ants preying upon plant-feeding insects to help protect Homopteran insects they are farming:  “Their food, throughout the year, consists primarily of the honeydew secretions of homopteran insects. In fact, they are well-known for farming colonies of such insects as a means of providing their members with a ready supply of the latter’s sweet liquid exudations.
As I mention in an earlier article on acrobat ants found in Temple, Texas, most gardeners are dismayed to find evidence of homopteran incursions onto their  garden plants because, once established, the damage done by these organisms can be extensive and difficult to control. Since acrobat ants work hard to disperse scale, aphids, and mealybugs, one might think the first thing a good gardener should do is to control these ants. Again, first impressions are not always best, as the following demonstrates:  ‘The cultivation of Homoptera by ants is usually considered detrimental to plants, but any damage may be offset by the ants’ predation on defoliators. Another factor that may contribute to the stability of the ant-Homoptera-plant relationship is the ability of some homopterans to withdreaw large quantities of sap without seriously injuring trees, thereby allowing them to feed on the same plant year after year (Bradley and Hinks 1968). A portion of the sap sustains the aphids, but most is passed on as honeydew to the ants. In return, the ants protect the aphids and the trees from their enemies.’ (Hansen and Klotz 2005).

Ant on Squash Bug antenna, probably NOT phoresy
Squash Bug Head

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.

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  • 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.

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Tags: Squash Bug

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