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A bug is afoot – a leaf-footed bug

By Ralph E. Mitchell

One spring/summer plant pest that really bugs me is the leaf-footed bug.  Just as its name implies, the back legs of this insect have  leaf-like projections easily seen by the naked eye.  The leaf-footed bug attacks many types of plants and is a general nuisance in the garden.

There are nine species of leaf-footed bugs in Florida.  This insect is a type of stink bug which will be very evident if you get your hands on one.  This is a defense action that keeps predators (and people) at bay.  As a member of the Hemiptera, they have straw-like piecing/sucking mouthparts which are inserted into a plant to suck juices. The adult leaf-footed bug is about three-quarters of an inch in length, has an elongated body with a triangular thorax, and is brownish in color.  Some have a light-colored marking across the mid-section.  The young  (nymphs) look just like the adults, but are smaller, have no wings, and are orange to light brown in color.  You may even be able to detect the tiny eggs which are golden brown and are conspicuously placed end-to-end in a single row on leaves.

Interestingly enough, the main host plant of this critter is the thistle.  Unfortunately, they have found other plant types, including citrus, pecans, beans, peppers, lychee, okra, tomatoes, crape myrtles, roses, ixora, and hibiscus, equally inviting.  Not only does the piecing/sucking mouthpart cause damage to the plant, but it can also trigger fruit drop and rots to develop.  While you may see just one or two leaf-footed bugs, they often have the habit of gathering in larger groups.  I have had the most problems with this insect on cherry tomatoes and southern peas.  Adult leaf-footed bugs can fly and leave the premises pretty fast when encountered.  I have had success in actually hand-picking them to reduce numbers and suppress this pest.  I hand-pick as soon as I first detect them thus preventing a build-up of the population.   Again, they are very nimble, and of course will release their “stink” when handled, but at least you know they are gone!  Monitor regularly and remove any new arrivals as needed – you will get used to it!

The leaf-footed bug has a unique appearance and can be a nuisance in the garden.   Recognition is important as there are many types of stinkbugs including beneficial types that actually feed on pest insects – you don’t want to kill those!  For more information on all types of stinkbugs and their relatives, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer.  Don’t forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area.  Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times – http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/charlotteco/files/2018/01/Plant-Clinics-Schedule.pdf .

Resources:
Mead, F.W. (2016) (FDACS) Leaf-Footed Bug – Featured Creatures.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Mizell, III, R. F. ( 2015) Stink Bugs and Leaf-Footed Bugs Are Important Fruit, Nut, Seed and Vegetable Pests. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Webb S. E. & Johnson F. A. (2016) Insect Management in the Home Garden.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.

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