Finding Leaf-footed Bugs in Your Tomatoes?

Leaf-footed bug attacking a tomato.

Leaf-footed bug attacking a tomato. Notice the leaf like flare on the lower portion of the back legs.

It’s that time of the year to see leaf-footed bug (Leptoglossus phyllopus) damage. The leaf-footed bug belongs to the order Hemiptera, the true bug family. Adult leaf-footed bugs get their name from the flattened, leaf like flare on the lower portion of the back legs or tibia. The adult body can be a greenish gray to black, about ¾” inch-long, with upwardly pointed structures on what we would think of as the shoulders. They are hard bodied which makes them somewhat difficult to control. Juveniles (nymphs) are smaller and often reddish-orange in color and found in groups.

The leaf-footed bug attacks ripening fruit crops and causes discolored depressions or blemishes called cat-faces. You may have noticed these wounds on your tomatoes. Puncturing of fruit also allows secondary pathogens to enter and cause rotting. Tomatoes are not the only crop affected, other crops attacked are citrus fruits, pecans, apple, beans, bell pepper, blueberry, blackberry, corn, cucurbits, eggplant, peach, pear, plum, and squash.

Cluster of leaf-footed bug nymphs on young tomatoes.

Cluster of leaf-footed bug nymphs on young tomatoes.

Adult leaf-footed bugs migrate from weedy areas into tomato plants, particularly when the fruit has started to ripen. This is why you typically do did not see damage early in the season. Weedy areas also serve as shelters for these insects during the winter season, when tomatoes and other host plants are not available. Try to eliminate such areas near your garden or keep weedy areas closely mowed.

It is important to observe your garden on a daily basis. When you spot leaf-footed bugs, you can handpick the bugs, especially early in the season when the very young nymphs are tightly clustered together, especially in the morning. Wear gloves because of the odor they will emit when handled, and drop them into a can of soapy water.

Insecticides such as permethrin, cyfluthrin or esfenvalerate can be used to control leaf-footed bugs. Do not use permethrin on varieties with fruit less than one-inch diameter. Be sure to observe the days-to-harvest period indicated on the pesticide label, and be certain to wash the fruit before using.

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