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Natural Perspectives: The latest buzz on gardening

October 01, 2012|By Vic Leipzig and Lou Murray
(Photo by Lou Murray )

There's a new bug in town, and it's a bad one. The Bagrada bug, a.k.a. harlequin or painted bug, is an alien invasive insect that is spreading like wildfire throughout Southern California. It's a rather pretty creature with a black, shield-shaped body boldly marked with orange and white.

The Latin name for this bug is Bagrada hilaris, but there is nothing hilarious about them. It has quickly developed into a major crop pest.

These little stinkers were first spotted in Los Angeles County in June 2008. They have since spread throughout Southern California and into Southern Arizona.

Native to Africa, India and Pakistan, the Bagrada bug is also found in Southeast Asia and Southern Europe. Their recent arrival to the U.S. is already causing havoc in home and community gardens, as well as on organic farms. Population densities build quickly, and the infestation can decimate crops in the brassica family. This includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, turnips, radishes and mustard greens.

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Adults and nymphs insert their needle-like mouthparts into plants and suck out the juices. They leave behind white or wilted spots where they have been feeding.

Bagrada bugs are members of the stinkbug family and taste nasty to birds. If a bird eats one, it will immediately spit it back out. That means that Begradas have no predators here and are reproducing astronomically.

Other species of harlequin bugs lay their eggs on plants, where they can be preyed upon by wasps. Not Bagrada bugs. They lay their eggs in the soil. When those eggs hatch out, the nymphs attack the nearby plants in such huge numbers that picking them off by hand isn't feasible.

Vic and I have noticed these pests in our garden this summer, both at home and at the Huntington Beach Community Garden. They decimated my kale and my tatsoi (an Asian version of mustard greens). They seem to do nothing but destroy plants and make more little Bagrada bugs. At this time of year, the adults go in and out of cracks in the soil, and the females are busy laying their eggs below ground.

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