Garden Detective

Garden Detective: Attack of the dreaded leaffooted bugs

What’s bugging this pomegranate? It’s a pair of mating leaffooted bugs – and they can suck the juice right out of fruit and tomatoes.
What’s bugging this pomegranate? It’s a pair of mating leaffooted bugs – and they can suck the juice right out of fruit and tomatoes.

Q: What are the insects on my pomegranate fruit? I have seen these bugs in the garden since early August on my tomatoes and pomegranates. They are six-legged and dark charcoal gray in color with a little whitish/yellowish band across their backs. I spray them with safe soap or horticultural oil and they fly away, only to see them return within a few days. Today there was an adult and about 8 to 10 juveniles on one of my tomatoes. The immature juveniles are all six-legged as well with small, bright-red, rounded bodies. I would like to know the insect name and whether they are beneficial or harmful to my fruit?

Del Deletetsky, Sacramento

A: You’re not the only gardener who has seen these invaders this summer. They used to be rare, but not anymore.

“The insects on the pomegranate are a mating pair of leaffooted bugs,” said retired state entomologist Baldo Villegas of Orangevale. “They have become common in the Sacramento area in the past 10 to 15 years. They used to be uncommon and only a bugman’s treasure find.

“I do not see them in my garden,” Villegas added. “The only time I see them is when somebody else brings them to me as a sample or in a picture.”

Leaffooted bugs are a true bug and related to stinkbugs. They have piercing-sucking mouthparts that allow them to feed on fruit, fruiting vegetables (such as tomatoes), nuts and ornamental plants.

“If I saw them in my garden as common as in this garden, I would try to catch them and dispose of them by dropping them into a container with soapy water so they can drown,” Villegas said. “These insects can be fast. The immature ones will not fly because of the lack of wings but the adults will fly almost as fast as a (house) fly.

“With some practice, one can become pretty good at catching these insects,” he added. “Personally, I just squish them and be done with the problem but there are some (gardeners) that can’t stand this.”

A hand-held vacuum is an effective tool in sucking up these bad bugs, too.

“I hate to recommend spraying any insecticides to control these insects,” Villegas said. “However, if I were to recommend spraying for them, I would use an organic type of pesticide like those containing Spinosad. There are several pesticide companies that have Spinosad products and some are available at local garden centers.

“The three products that contain spinosad are: Fertilome’s ‘Borer, Bagworm, Tent Caterpillar & Leafminer Spray’; Green Light’s ‘Lawn & Garden Spray’; and Monterey’s ‘Garden Insect Spray.’ I am sure that there are other products in the local nurseries and garden centers. Please apply these insecticides according with directions on the product’s label.”

For more information on leaffooted bugs and their control, check out UC Integrated Pest Management’s Pest Note 74168, available online at http://ipm.ucdavis.edu.

Garden questions?

Questions are answered by master gardeners at the UC Cooperative Extension services in Sacramento and Placer counties. Send questions to Garden Detective, P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852. Send email to h&g@sacbee.com. Please put “Garden Detective” in the subject field and include your postal address. To contact UC Extension directly, call:

  • Sacramento: 916-875-6913; 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. Monday-Thursday
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