JoAnne Skelly: Scary bugs

I have occasionally found some scary-looking bugs inside the house, usually on screens. These are fairly large, fierce-looking creatures called leaffooted bugs with leaf-like bits on their hind legs. They can be ¾ to 1-inch in length, which you have to admit is daunting. They are strong fliers and when something that big flies near your face, it’s startling!
They have piercing-sucking mouthparts that extend half the length of their body. They feed on plant parts, particularly seeds of desirable plants and weeds, but they also suck the juices out of fruits, fruiting vegetables, nuts and ornamental plants. And, just like in science fiction stories, they liquify bits of seeds and plants with a digestive enzyme. Their feeding may sometimes discolor plants; fruit and nuts may abort and die or have depressions at the feeding site as fruit ripens. When infestations are high, the bugs leave bug poop on the surface of fruit, which isn’t too appealing. But, for the most part, damage to gardens and landscape plants is minimal.
Leaffooted bugs overwinter in groups as adults, hiding in protected areas such as woodpiles, buildings, junipers, tree cracks and under peeling bark. In the spring these adults can lay over 200 eggs with nymphs hatching in about a week. It takes five to eight weeks for nymphs to grow into adults, which means every five to eight weeks new eggs can be laid. That’s a lot of big bugs flying around.
Fortunately, cold winters and parasitism by other insects can reduce populations or they can be limited by rainfall and food availability. Rarely are populations problematic for home gardeners, but if you do find numbers of these critters, you may want to eliminate weeds, use row covers, or handpick and destroy. If you handpick, wear gloves because these bugs are related to stinkbugs and they leave an unappealing odor behind when touched. Some gardeners dedicate a hand-held vacuum to regular leaffooted and stinkbug removal. Get rid of overwintering hiding places. Go to my favorite pest information site at to find out more.
Far worse than leaffooted bugs are bloodsucking conenose bugs. While some, also called assassin bugs, may prey on other insects, there is a bloodsucking parasite that feeds on animals and humans. Supposedly their bite doesn’t hurt, but it can swell, itch, burn, or be tender. For those who are allergic to these bites, they could be dangerous, possibly life-threatening.
Who needs scary Halloween creatures when we have nature?
JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator Emerita at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Email her at


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