Facts About the Harlequin Bug

Written by laurence girard
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Facts About the Harlequin Bug
Harlequin bugs are pests that commonly attack crops. (Bug image by barry1 from Fotolia.com)

The scientific name for the harlequin bug is Murgantia histrionica, according to the University of Florida. The harlequin bug has several common names, including calico bug, calico back and the fire bug, according to the University of California, Irvine. When harlequin bugs are kept in a laboratory, they live for up to 80 days. Harlequin bugs are best known for being pests that aggressively attack farm crops.


Harlequin bugs have the ability to destroy entire fields of crops when they are not controlled, according to the University of Florida. Harlequin bugs destroy their host plants by sucking their sap out, which causes the plants to wilt, turn brown and eventually die. Plants commonly attacked by the harlequin bug include horseradish, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, mustard, Brussels sprouts, turnip, kohlrabi and radish. When these plants are not present, harlequin bugs will attack tomato plants, potato, eggplant, okra, bean, asparagus, beet, weeds, fruit trees and field crops.


Harlequin bug populations can be controlled by limiting weed growth, ploughing under field debris, planting resistant plant varieties and by using insecticides, according to North Carolina State University. It’s important to apply insecticides as soon as harlequin bugs appear.


Harlequin bugs commonly are found in the southern U.S., ranging from the Atlantic to Pacific Ocean, according to the University of Florida. Rarely, the harlequin bug is found in northern Colorado and Pennsylvania. These bugs originally entered the U.S. from Mexico after the American Civil War. These bugs sometimes are found in Canada adjacent to New England, according to the University of California, Irvine.


The gestation period of a harlequin bug lasts between 50 and 80 days, according to the University of Florida. Approximately 12 eggs are laid at once, usually on the underside of the leaves of a host plant. Eggs take between 19 and 24 days to hatch; this varies depending on climate and temperature. Eggs usually are marked with a black spot, according to the University of California, Irvine. Newborn harlequin bugs are called nymphs. When adults mate, they attract females by tapping their antennae against the female’s antennae and body.


Harlequin bugs measure between 8 and 11.5mm in length, according to the University of California, Irvine. Harlequin bugs produce odours from their thoracic glands. Harlequin bugs typically are dormant in the winter because of cold temperatures.

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