How do I get rid of these bugs that are covering my tomato plants? What are they?
UnChu Littlefield, Sacramento
According to retired state entomologist Baldo Villegas, these insects are leaf-footed bugs.
"You can see the 'leaf foot' on the hind legs as the tibia the segment above the real foot is flattened," Villegas explained. "The eggs are laid in groups and the young called 'nymphs' emerge out of the eggs about the same time. It will take about a month for them to reach the adult stage that you are seeing (in the photo).
"Some of the bugs on the left-hand side (of the photo) are still immature as the wings are not fully developed, and the light brown on the left bottom side of the picture is a new teneral adult (it just emerged)," Villegas observed.
Do they damage tomatoes?
"They cause damage on the veggies by sucking nutrients out of the veggies with a long proboscis that they have on the head and fits between the legs," Villegas said. He suggests that the best way to get rid of them is to pick them off the plants and drop them in a bucket of soapy water.
"The bugs give off a disagreeable odor, so either wear gloves or wash your hands afterward," Villegas said. He adds that nurseries and garden centers carry insecticides that will work, but make sure the label says the product is safe to use on vegetables.
"If you use them, read the label and make sure that it is not a systemic insecticide," he added. "I would also wash the veggies before eating them."
Leaf-footed bugs (Leptoglossus) are often confused with stink bugs; they both give off bad odors. Leaf-footed bugs tend to be slow and clumsy which makes them easier to catch. Most species prefer to eat seeds, which can make them a problem for almond and pistachio growers.
When they attack tomatoes or other vegetables, these bugs can make the skin feel rough like sandpaper, but the fruit is still edible.
To learn more about leaf-footed bugs, check out the Pest Note on the University of California's Integrated Pest Management website at www.ipm.ucdavis.edu. (Find them listed under "pistachio pests.")
Questions are answered by master gardeners at the UC Cooperative Extension services in Sacramento and Placer counties.
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