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Flowers, Fruits, and Frass

Local and statewide information on a variety of current topics for home gardeners and market growers.

Damsel Bugs

Posted by Kelly Allsup - Bugs

August 30, 2012

News source: Kelly Allsup, 309-663-8306,

News writer:

Damsel Bugs

URBANA - Without question when I visit a garden, I will approach the most beautiful flowering plant in the landscape and start inspecting it for garden pests and beneficial insects, states Kelly Allsup, University of Illinois Extension Educator, and Horticulture. My inquiry will cause me to turn over leaves, blow on flowers and look for insect feeding damage or droppings (frass). This manner of exploration has allowed me to spy upon a small slender dainty damsel bug (Nabis spp.) feeding on aphids on a flowering tobacco plant. I also saw them again feeding on squash bug eggs (Anais tristis) that had been laid on snapdragons and cucumbers. Upon close inspection, damsel bugs have a long beak they hold under their bodies and front legs like praying mantid (Tenodera aridifolia sinensi).

Damsel bugs use their front legs to grab their prey and then their beaks to pierce and suck juices from aphids, small caterpillars, leaf hoppers, thrips, beetle larvae, insect eggs and some beneficial insects. Most can be found in sunny locations of the garden from mid-June to mid-August. Damsel bugs overwinter in vegetation and lay their eggs in plant tissue. The nymphs look like the adults but do not have wings. Nymphs and adults prey on garden pests. Birds attracted to the garden will feed on the damsel bugs.

University of Illinois suggests attracting beneficial insects by planting an insectary. An insectary is a collection of plants used to produce pollen and nectar for beneficial insects to feed on or plants that host the garden pests eaten by beneficial insects. For example, herbs like dill, fennel, lavender, coriander or chamomile should be planted to attract damsel bugs for shelter and food. The native purple prairie clover (Petalostemum purpureum) may also provide the damsel bugs with a host of garden pests.

Always inspect plants for beneficial insects before spraying pesticides because they will be killed by the application. Organic pesticides can cause mortality of beneficial insects. However, organic chemicals will not prevent the return of beneficial insects to the garden indefinitely. Common garden pesticides like carbamyl may prevent their return for the rest of the growing season.

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