The leaffooted bug (Leptoglossus phyllopus) is a widespread and conspicuous minor pest of many crops, including a number of vegetables. Vegetable crops sometimes attacked include potato, tomato, beans, cowpea, eggplant, bell pepper, okra, and a variety of cucurbits. Leaffooted bugs in Florida are known to attack citrus blooms and tender shoots as well as ripening fruit.
In conventional production systems, serious infestations do not occur commonly as this pest is typically kept under control by measures targeted at other pests, but a large proportion of the crop may be lost when populations buildup in organic production or home gardens.
The leaffooted bug is widely present throughout the southern U.S., ranging from New York to Florida, west through Texas to California, and south into Mexico, Guatemala, and Costa Rica. In addition to Leptoglossus phyllopus, several other species of leaffooted bug are present in Florida.)
Adults of L. phyllopus generally are chestnut brown, with various amounts of orange on the abdomen when the wings are raised, and vary from 5/8 – to 3/4-inch long. Nymphs have much the same shape as adults, but do not acquire the flattened leaf-like hind tibial (hind leg) expansions until they approach adulthood and are typically reddish-orange in color. Eggs are a metallic golden brown and are laid in a single row or chain along a stem or leaf midrib. They are somewhat cylindrical, are laid end-to-end, forming a stiff cylindrical rod in which each egg appears as a joint or cell.
Puncture wounds caused by feeding can cause pitting, distortion, and discoloration of fruiting vegetables. Damage also may cause fruits to drop immaturely as well as providing entrance for secondary pathogens to enter and cause rotting.
Survival And Spread
Principal weedy host plants are thistles, jimsonweed, goldenrod, and elderberry. The leaffooted bug has a habit of aggregating into large colonies, and may be present in large numbers on a few localized or individual plants while neighboring hosts are clean. Swarms have been known to move methodically across a field or grove. Adults have been taken all months of the year in South Florida, but populations attain peak numbers during the warmer months.
The leaffooted bug is controlled by application of insecticides, cultural practices, and by hand picking. Leaffooted bugs, like stink bugs, can be particularly serious in organic culture where insecticidal control is difficult to impossible to attain using permitted materials.
Several authorities have noted the importance of cover crop management and elimination of nearby miscellaneous hosts. In vegetable production in Florida, where leaffooted bugs are expected to be a problem, cover crops should be chopped and disked while the bugs are still in an immature, wingless stage. Use of leguminous cover crops such as cowpeas, hairy indigo, crotalaria, velvet beans, etc., may allow populations to build and should be carefully considered before use in a rotation with organic vegetable production where leaffooted bugs may become problematic.
By Gene McAvoy, Regional Vegetable Extension IV, University of Florida/IFAS