Leaf Footed Bugs, Other Coreidae Insects, and What to Do About Them

Leaf Footed Bugs, Other Coreidae Insects, and What to Do About Them

By Michael Jenkins

In the warmer parts of the country, tomato plants are already starting to supply their gardeners with fruit. While our more northerly friends may have to wait a bit longer, now’s a good time for all of us to start talking tomatoes. We’ve gotten a few request recently for more information about a particular kind of garden bug that shows up primarily on tomatoes (but occasionally on other plants). What are leaf footed bugs? Are they harmful? What can you do about leaf footed bugs in your garden? We’ve gotten your questions and queries, so now we’ll do our best to provide some answers. Let’s dig in and learn all about the Coreidae family of insects and what they do to your garden plants.

Coreidae: Species, Names, and Other Basics

There are many species in the family Coreidae. They’re mostly beetle-like insects often referred to as ‘sap suckers’ due to the way they feed by extracting fluid from plants via a sharp proboscis. The young nymphs and eggs can be very hard to spot, as they are small and often either translucent or green in color. However they get more visible as they mature, becoming a beetle-like insect of red or brownish color generally. Adults may be a half inch/1.5cm or more in length—some species can be a full inch/2.5cm long! Please refer to the links we’ve included in the text for better help with identification.

The garden pests of this family have many names. They’re sometimes referred to as “leaf footed bugs” due to the leaf-like structures on the rear legs of the adults. They may also be referred to as ‘wilters’ or ‘tip wilters’, as their method of feeding causes the tips of vines, twigs, and leaves to wilt. While this is just part of their life cycle, it can cause serious damage to garden plants. They seem especially fond of tomatoes and cucurbits like cucumbers and melons, although they can also damage fruit and nut bearing trees and shrubs. While not as devastating as some other garden bugs, they can hurt or even kill plants if their population gets too high.

Leaf Footed Bugs in Your Garden

As with many garden pests, the best way to deal with leaf footed bugs or other Coreidae in your garden is via prevention. As they tend to migrate to new plants and new spaces from time to time, erecting a fine-meshed row cover over susceptible plants is a great first step—it physically blocks mature Coreidae from reaching your garden spaces and infesting your plants! Good row covers are reusable as well, so this solution will be there for you season after season.

Likewise, keeping weeds and debris away from your vulnerable plants can help reduce the leaf-footed bug population. These insects overwinter in weedy areas and woodpiles, and while we encourage you to have “wild” spaces in your garden as wildlife and insect habitat when possible you should keep your veggie beds clean and clear to avoid pests like these.

Regular inspections of your plants are necessary to ensure they’re in good health and to identify issues before the exacerbate, and leaf footed bugs are no exception. If you spot the early signs of a bug infestation—eggs on leaves or stems, nymphs or young bugs crawling around—it’s time to act quickly. Cleaning your plants gently with a cloth and a bucket of soapy water can help—wiping down the leaves and steps removes the eggs and smaller nymphs, and you and just drop the larger ones in the bucket as that will kill them.

When dealing with adults, hand removal is always an option. We recommend drowning them in a bucket of soapy water, but you can squash them if you so choose—just dispose of the bodies well away from your plants. Remember, these are stink bug relatives and they do tend to smell strongly!

Insecticidal soaps and neem oil can be useful in the preventative stages of a leaf footed bug infestation, but adults of the Coreidae family aren’t as affected by them so it may not eliminate mature insects. Some pesticides work well, but we really don’t like using them and we recommend trying other approaches first.

There is some good news when it comes to leaf footed bugs and their relatives: they are dinner for many different animals that likely live in or around your garden. Spiders, assassin bugs, wasps, and birds all love to dine on them, so by supporting good and helpful insects and animals in your garden space you can help keep Coreidae species at bay.

Leaf Footed Bugs are a Manageable Problem

The big takeaway is this: leaf footed bugs and other Coreidae pests are a real but manageable problem. You have a variety of options for both preventing and infestation of leaf footed bugs and for dealing with it should they arrive. Keep an eye on your plants, stay proactive, and everything will work out. Dealing with pests is part of gardening, and gardening is all about learning and experimentation.

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