A homeowner emailed a photo to the Hillsborough County Extension Office of a group of insects she discovered on a plant in her yard. She shared her photo on Facebook, looking for help in identifying them. Several people, seeing her photo, had kindly warned her they could be disease-carrying insects called kissing bugs, otherwise known by the much less friendly name of bloodsucking conenose. The insects indeed look quite similar to kissing bugs/conenose.
After submitting the photo to the UF/IFAS Insect Identification Lab, good news was revealed: they were not the bloodsucking conenose. The insects were the nymph stage of a kind of leaffooted bug called Spartocera fusca. They feed on plants in the tomato family and won’t bite people.
The bad news is, like stink bugs, leaffooted bugs can be serious plant pests. Leaffooted bugs are larger than stink bugs. They have piercing-sucking mouthparts they inject into leaves and fruit. Their saliva damages plants. You may see stippling, spots on fruit skin or rinds, deformed fruit or fruit drop. This can be costly for farmers, because leaffooted bugs can cause economic injury, resulting in fruits and vegetables with decreased market quality.
Additionally, leaffooted bugs are polyphagous, which means they feed on a variety of plants including fruits, vegetables, citrus and ornamentals.
What can you do about leaffooted bugs? Don’t be alarmed, as leaffooted bugs can be controlled in home gardens and backyards. Just as this homeowner did, scout regularly. Learn to find and identify bugs. Look for differences in insect color, patterns and markings.
It is important to recognize that leaffooted bugs go through an incomplete metamorphosis. Their life cycle is egg, nymph and adult.
The nymph stage may have several instars, during which the insects grow and develop. Leaffooted bug nymphs often have black legs and orange, reddish bodies. Their characteristic leaf-like hind leg develops in later instars. Their color can change too, going from orange to brown to black. Contact your Extension office if you need help with identification.
It’s easy to control them– if you’re not squeamish. Simply carry a plastic container of soapy water with you to the garden as you scout. Handpick the leaffooted bugs and drop them in the soapy water. They don’t bite or sting.
You can also limit these pests if you remove and discard plants, like tomatoes and other vegetables, after harvest. Remove weeds that may attract them, and encourage beneficial insects and predators such as tachinid flies, birds and spiders.
Minimize pesticide use and plant a variety of flowers to attract good insects. Always identify a plant, vegetable or turfgrass problem before applying pesticides, and check information for accuracy. Like this homeowner, you can verify claims by contacting your Extension office or using many of the free online UF/IFAS resources.
Byron, M.A. and J.L. Capinera. (2016). Eastern Bloodsucking Conenose, Triatoma sanguisuga (LeConte) (Hemiptera: Reduviidae: Triatominae). IFAS Publication Number ENY-581. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Retrieved from http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in1018.
Mead, F.W. (1971). Featured Creatures Fact Sheet: Leaffooted bug, Leptoglossus phyllopus (Linnaeus) (Insecta: Hemiptera: Coreidae). Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Retrieved from http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/orn/leaffooted_bug.htm.
Mizell, R. (2015). Stink Bugs and Leaffooted Bugs Are Important Fruit, Nut, Seed and Vegetable Pests. IFAS Publication Number ENY-718. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Retrieved from http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in534.
Nicole Pinson is the Urban Horticulture Agent in Hillsborough County. The author gratefully acknowledges JoAnn Hoffman, UF/IFAS Extension Hillsborough County Horticulture Program Assistant, for her advice and input during preparation of this article.
Published December 28, 2016