Leaffooted Insect Pests

Adult leaffooted bug (Leptoglossus phyllopus). Photo by Dan Clark, USDI National Park Service, Bugwood.org

Leaffooted bugs are one of the many pests commonly found throughout the southern United States. Though rarely a serious infestation, they feed on a wide variety of crops, causing damage to fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and ornamentals.

Leafooted bugs are found in Florida throughout the year but are most active during the warmer months. In home gardens they puncture ripening fruit, often causing secondary infections and rot. They are a major pest in citrus groves and cause significant fruit damage and loss. Their piercing-sucking mouthparts allow them to suck nutrients from the stems, leaves, and fruits as they move from plant to plant. Because the adults are winged, they can be very difficult to control.

Identification

Florida is home to at least nine species of insects from the genus Leptoglossus. Some of these are leaf-footed (have "foliaceous hind tibiae") but only Leptoglossus phyllopus has been given the common name "leaffooted bug."

A cluster of tiny orange insects on a green leaf

Immature leaffooted bugs. Photo by Jennifer Carr,
University of Florida, Bugwood.org.

Leptoglossus phyllopus is easily distinguished from its close relatives by the straight, uninterrupted, white bar that crosses its body. Adults are usually between 5/8–3/4-inch long. They are chestnut brown with a white stripe running horizontally across their backs. When their wings are raised, orange coloring may be visible.

The immature forms of some (but not all) insects are called "nymphs." Leaffooted bug nymphs are about the same shape as the adults, but without "leaf-footed" extensions on their legs. They range in color from deep orange to light brown and have no wings.

The nymphs of leaffooted bugs are commonly mistaken for another insect: assassin bugs. Assassin bugs are beneficial insects; they feed on other insect pests. Knowing the difference between assassin bugs and leaffooted nymphs can help you spare the insects that are on your side.

The eggs of leaffooted bugs are easy to spot. They are golden brown and laid in a single row or chain. Find them along a stem or the underside of a leaf. They are roughly cylindrical and lay end-to-end forming a rod shape.

Very close view of tiny bright orange bug emerging from brown square eggs

Leaffooted nymphs hatching. Note the golden-brown cylindrical eggs, laid in a straight line. Photo by Jennifer Carr, University of Florida, Bugwood.com.

If you're having trouble identifying a pest, you may want to visit Landscape Pests. This mobile site that can help identify common pests found in Florida.

Management and Control

Integrated pest management (IPM) strategies are effective in controlling leaffooted bugs. One important principle of IPM is knowing your "action threshold," and deciding when to intervene. Action thresholds are "levels of pest density or damage that result in consistently measurable losses in yield quantity or quality." Minor damage may not warrant any action except continued observation.

Cultural control methods are a strategy of IPM you can practice before pest problems arise. These gardening techniques help keep pests at bay by making your plants less appealing or available. In the case of leaffooted bugs, row covers can keep flying adults from entering and laying eggs. Keeping plants healthy, well-watered, and appropriately spaced are also cultural control methods.

If the damage passes what you consider an acceptable "action threshold," start controlling the pests with low-impact techniques. Always try the safest alternatives first. A good place to start is handpicking, a mechanical form of pest control. Destroying the eggs, nymphs, and adults by hand is a very effective method of leaffooted bug control. Dispose of any captured insects so they do not return to feed again.

Attracting beneficial insects is a form of biological control and another popular option for controlling these pests. Leaffooted bugs are preyed upon by several native parasitic wasps and flies, as well as assassin bugs (pictured below), spiders, and birds. If these beneficials frequent your garden, protect them so they can continue their work.

Dozens of tiny yellow-orange bugs with long spidery legs emerging from an egg

Assassin bug nymphs hatching. Photo by Megha Kalsi, University of Florida.

If you are unable to control leaffooted bug with cultural, mechanical, and biological control strategies, it may be time to consider a chemical control. But it is important to note that pesticides, while effective against leaffooted bugs in the nymph stage, may not be equally effective against adults.

When applying pesticides, spot-treat only. Use pesticides to treat the affected areas of a plant or landscape bed, not the whole yard. Avoid using broad-spectrum insecticides whenever possible. They're not selective, meaning they also kill beneficial insects, including bees. Instead, choose targeted products, which are designed to harm only specific pests. Read and follow all label instructions. Remember that the label is the law!

If you have questions about leaffooted bugs, pest management, or pesticides, contact your county extension office.

And for more information about specific yard pests, diagnosing pest problems, and controlling pests, visit University of Florida IPM online.

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