Gardens

Pest Wars, Part 1 - Squash Bugs

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By Orion Darkwood

People ask me about pests and which ones I think are the worst. Over the next couple of articles I will list my top 3. Number 1 is the Squash Bug or orange-tipped leaf-footed bug. They are have a foul odor when disturbed, much like stink bugs. This and the fact that they look similar cause most people to think they are stink bugs until too late.

Squash Bugs attack squash, cucumbers, melons, and pumpkins. The major damage is caused by their toxic saliva into the plant. This causes wilting and quick death of the plant. They reproduce in great numbers and tend to horde on a single plant at a time. I have personally witnessed a squash plant go from healthy to dead in 3 days due to this pest.

The complete life cycle of the squash bug commonly requires six to eight weeks. Squash bugs have one generation per year in northern climates and two to three generations per year in warmer regions. The preferred overwintering site(s) are cucurbit fields under crop debris, clods of soil, or stones - but sometimes adults also are found in adjacent wood piles or buildings. Adults measures 1.4 to 1.6 cm in length and are dark grayish brown in color. In many cases the edge of the abdomen is marked with alternating gold and brown spots.

In addition, squash bugs are known to carry cucurbit yellow vine disease. The main reason they are not a widespread pest is that they tend to horde on a single or small group of plants at a time. They have dominant periods in the winter and late summer.

Adults are extremely hard to kill with insecticides and can live up to 130 days. They produce 20 eggs per adult. The eggs are elliptical, slightly flat and bronze in color. Eggs may be tightly clustered or spread a considerable distance apart, but an equidistant spacing arrangement is commonly observed. The nymph stage lasts around 30 days, and the nymph will molt 5 times.

Insecticides are most effective when the Squash Bug is in the nymph stage. Eggs and adults are usually best crushed. Adults are also hard to locate as they burrow and fed around the base of the plant. Usually coming out only at dawn and dusk. Some success can be found by placement of boards, large cabbage leaves, or other shelter for squash bugs induces the bugs to congregate there during the day where they are easily found and crushed. Effective control requires that all plant debris be kept in check.

I have found some limited success with diatonomous earth and cayenne pepper liberally sprinkled on and around the plants.

Orion Darkwood is an avid gardener, self reliance instructor, writer, poet and small business owner. To learn more about Orion go to www.crossedswordsus.com