The leaf-footed bug is an unwelcome visitor in vegetable and fruit gardens.
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"Leaf-footed bug" refers to a broad category of bugs that share the common trait of a widened lower hind leg. The leaf-footed bug is a common sight in many parts of the country. In Texas, where the image at right was taken, leaf-footed bugs frequently appear near pecan trees, tomato plants, numerous other fruit and vegetable crops and cotton plants — some of their favorite food sources. They feed on a wide range of tender young plants, beans and seeds. The leaf-footed bug in the genus Narnia is often seen on prickly pear cactus.
Both adult and nymph stages of the leaf-footed bug feed on plants by inserting their sharp mouthparts into the fruit or vegetable, injecting saliva and then sucking the juices. The process of injecting saliva into the fruit or vegetable causes the fruit to stop growing at that point and also affects its taste. As spring wears on, the number of leaf-footed bugs increases and so does their feeding frenzy until the peak of summer heat arrives.
A heavy infestation of leaf-footed bugs can be devastating to a crop, and controlling them with pesticides is difficult because the bugs fly. Commercial pecan growers sometimes try planting trap crops like pearl millet to lure the bugs to an area where more intensive management of the pests can occur. Sometimes that doesn't work, and other strategies have to be tried.
"Some years you can outrun them by planting early," says Paula Craig, agricultural extension horticulture agent in Brazoria County in Texas. "That's not possible every year. This year we had [late] cold weather and rain so it was hard to get ahead."
"You have to be a good scout in the garden, and try to catch them early," she says. "But we also say plant enough for you and the bugs too."
Hand-picking or catching with a butterfly net is one way to remove them from the garden. Customary methods like dusting with powders don't work. "We recommend two shoes," Paula says.
Learn how to drive off unwanted underground garden guests with these expert tips.