The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Minute Pirate Bugs – Little Bug with a Big Bite

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

As I was working in my garden the other day it became painfully clear as to what I should chat about today. Recently you may have also experienced the bite of a bug so tiny it easily fades into oblivion among a sea of freckles. These little bitsy guys are minute pirate bugs.

The minute pirate bug, Orius tristicolor, is less than one eighth of an inch long, oval to triangular in shape, somewhat flattened and black with whitish marks on the back.

Most of the time minute pirate bugs are good guys. They are true generalist predators feeding on many different prey including thrips, aphids, spider mites and many insect eggs. They can consume as many as 30 spider mites per day. They are reportedly important predators of corn earworm eggs in cornfields.

Minute pirate bugs are present all summer in fields, woodlands, gardens and landscapes going unnoticed by us. I haven't been able to come up with a definitive reason for why these guys go Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on us at the end of the season. Why do they suddenly decide to bite something a zillion times bigger than they are after they have spent the summer munching on tiny spider mites? Oh, the insect mind. Perhaps there is not enough prey at that time of the year for the numbers of pirate bugs present. Maybe it's the moisture we provide. Maybe they are just mean.

Their bite is amazingly painful for something so tiny. When they bite they are actually probing us with their short blunt beak. They do not feed on blood or inject venom or saliva.

Everyone seems to react differently to his or her bite and some people seem to be more apt to be bit. I get bit more often when I am working and sweating (or is it glowing?) Bites on some people swell up like a mosquito bite, some turn into a hard red bump and for others there is no reaction at all. Minute pirate bugs are not quick to fly following biting, so you usually see what just bit you so hard.

Trying to control minute pirate bugs is really not practical. Their biting occurs for a very short time and tends to be more abundant some years. Also since they are overall beneficial by eating many pests, it is best just to put up with their split personality. Reportedly wearing dark clothing on very warm days when pirate bugs are abundant may help. Keeping covered with long sleeves and long pants will also definitely help. Repellents have mixed reviews as to how well they help with pirate bugs but may be worth a try.

Ladybugs may also bite this time of year. Perhaps for the same reasons as pirate bugs. The same control and prevention measures would apply to ladybugs.

Home Composting

Home Composting is something many of us can be doing in our own backyard. We can recycle grass clippings and leaves, but also kitchen scraps. If you are interested in getting started, or maybe you have some experience but want to learn more, plan on joining through the TeleNet system Duane Friend, U of I Extension Natural Resource Educator. Home composting class will be held on October 22 at 7:00 p.m. and repeated October 24 at 1:30 p.m.

Within the TeleNet program instructors are in a remote location while slides are shown locally as the instructor speaks.

There is no charge for the series but registration is required. Programs are open to the public and held at U of I Extension Champaign County office at 801 North Country Fair Drive in Champaign using the TeleNet system. To register please call U of I Extension at (217) 333-7672.

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