I have been struggling with Leaf Footed Bugs, Tomato Hornworm, and various other caterpillars on my hydroponically grown vegetables here lately.
After several attempts with “organic” sprays, I resorted to more powerful insecticides. Still with no success, I have turned to literally squashing them by gloved hand, which has thinned the population a bit.
I am scanning my plants for pests daily because in this heat, the decimation of a crop can happen so quickly. A few Hornworms can easily eat an entire tomato plant in one night.
This week while scanning , I had a large cluster of bluish metallic black bugs with red spots on their “shoulders” show up on my Sweet Italian Pepper Plant.
I asked in a Facebook group somewhat centered on gardening, if anyone was familiar with what they were. After a few “incorrect” identifications, a lady sent me a picture of what they could possibly be.
Further study of this picture led me to a website from a local university. After browsing through various articles, I stumbled upon something total unexpected.
The cluster of “bugs” I had living on my pepper plant was a group of predatory stink bugs in their nymph stage! This totally fascinated me!
Number one: I never even heard of a Predatory Stink Bug. Number Two: I had no idea stink bugs went through “stages” in their life cycle. I have always hated every stink bug I’ve come across and never bothered to read about where they come from or their life stages.
I was naturally skeptical after reading this. After all, whoever heard of a good stink bug? I still don’t think I would have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.
Being a “Predatory Stink Bug” means they prey on other insect pests. They reportedly feed on Grasshoppers, Earwig, caterpillars, Beetles, weevils, and even the much hated Green Stink Bug, among many other known pests in the garden.
Talk about Organic Pest Control! They will attack smaller insects alone and if they encounter a larger pest, they will attack it as a group. It’s really amazing to watch!
The scientific name for this particular stink bug is Alcaeorrhynchus Grandis. I won’t say common name, but its more plain english sounding name is : Giant Strong Nosed Stink Bug. It is the largest predatory stink bug in Florida which means, yes, that there ARE others out there!
They can be found as far south as Colombia and Brazil but in North America, they tend to remain in the southern border states and the southeastern parts of the US.
It goes through many stages in its life cycle, progressing through 5 instars. An instar is a developmental stage in arthropods. Each Instar progressively has more characteristics of the adult form.
How to Identify the Beneficial Stinkbug
The young instars when first hatched resemble small alien like spiders or ticks, with a round body and long dark legs. As they grow, they develop a red abdomen and a bluish black head. By the time they reach the 5th instar they are bluish black metallic black with the red spots on the shoulders as I have indicated earlier. See the pictures.
As adults, they look totally different. They look like your traditional “stink bug”. Around here, the green sap sucking bad stink bugs are more common.
The Giant Strong Nosed stink bug is a mottled brown, and the only real discernable characteristic about them is the double horn on their “shoulder” area. Picture a Pronghorn Antelope antler. The lower half of their body is a dark brown or black, being made up of colored wings folded together.
Another way to identify is the thick beaklike appendage they use to stab their prey, which is tucked under the body when not in use. Regular stink bugs have a long thin one not thicker than one of their legs.
Not that anyone would get this close, but you never know.
How to Attract
I have no idea where the ones in my garden came from, but I have read they can be attracted by pheromones.
One way to attract them is to have year- round groundcover or basically any type of plant that will provide shelter for them to overwinter amongst.
Try to avoid broad range pesticides if you’re trying to influence the presence of these beneficial bugs.
With people looking to go organic and all natural these days, predatory insects look like a great alternative to harsh chemicals.