"True bugs" are a group or "order" of insects called Hemiptera. One common trait is piercing and sucking mouthparts that enable them to suck sap from plants or body fluids from insects or animals. They also have two sets of wings. Their front wings are leathery at the base and membranous at the end. Their hind wings are membranous and shorter than the front ones. When at rest, the wings typically create a triangular shield-shaped pattern on their backs.
Some bugs, including squash bugs and bed bugs, are pestiferous. Others, such as assassin bugs and damsel bugs, are beneficial. Bugs can be tiny, only a couple of millimeters in length, or relatively large, up to 2 inches in length.
Bug bodies come in various shapes, but are often flattened on top. A number of bugs have scent glands that produce stinky smelling chemicals when they are disturbed.
As a group, bugs have what is called "incomplete" or simple metamorphosis, going from eggs, to five stages of flightless nymphs, to adults. They have no larval or pupal stages. Nymphs resemble the adults, but are smaller and lack working wings.
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Is it a good bug or a bad bug? The tiny "minute pirate bug" often goes unnoticed because it is only 1/12 to 1/5 of an inch in length. They are black with white markings on the front wings. Adults and nymphs suck out the body fluids of 30 to 40 aphids or mites each day. If this preferred food is not available, they can find nourishment from plant nectar, pollen and plant juices,
Local gardeners know squash bugs are "bad bugs." Adult squash bugs have dark brown to gray, 3/4-inch elongated flattened bodies. Nymphs are light gray-green with black legs,
Squash bug adults and nymphs are primarily a pest of winter squash, pumpkins and summer squash, but occasionally attack melons and cucumbers. They suck out the sap and leave yellowish specks that later turn brown. The specks are not a big problem, but heavy feeding by squash bugs can cause entire leaves and vines to wilt, turn black and die. Their feeding can also cause scars and sunken areas on squash fruit.
Control of squash bugs is not easy. Starting in June, check weekly for clusters of copper-colored eggs on the lower surfaces of the leaves and crush them. Cleaning up debris in the garden and avoiding the use of mulches helps eliminate squash bug hiding places. It is also advisable to rotate crops so that squash is not planted in the same area every year.
Pesticides to control squash bugs must be applied carefully to protect bees visiting squash flowers. The bees are needed for pollination. Apply labeled products only in the evening at dusk, and only at the base of plants and vines where the squash bugs tend to concentrate. Make your first application when egg clusters are discovered, then a second application a week or so later. This timing will help keep population numbers under control.
There are many more true bugs gardeners encounter, some good and some bad -- what's bugging you?
-- Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.