Arrrghh! Pirate bugs active this fall

October 6, 2016 11:11 AM
Blog Post

Many people have been asking me about little black bugs biting them this summer. Have you experienced this? I would have to guess they would be minute pirate bugs, also known as insidious flower bugs.

minute pirate bug adult
Minute pirate bug adult feeding on white fly nymphs. Photo at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthocoridae.

Minute pirate bugs are oval and about 1/5 inches long (hence the “minute” part of the common name). The wings cross over the back and have black and white markings. Adults and nymphs are predatory and feed on a variety of small, soft-bodied insects. Like all predatory true bugs, these insects have piercing-sucking stylets and feed on the fluids of other insects.

minute pirate bug nymph
Minute pirate bug nymph feeding on an aphid. Photo by Bradley Higbee, www.ipmimages.org.

Pirate bugs are common to see in field crops, woodlands, and home gardens. Specifically, they like to feed on aphids we consider plant pests. In the fall, they can become nuisance pests because they accidentally probe humans with their stylets. The probing can be surprisingly painful given the small size of the bug. They don’t feed on saliva and are not known to vector any diseases. People can react differently from the pirate bug probes. I personally get a little red welt, but it goes away in a few hours. There really isn’t anything you can do to manage minute pirate bugs; however, an insect repellent may work for you.

Ahoy, matey!

Author: 

Erin Hodgson Associate Professor

Dr. Erin Hodgson started working in the Department of Entomology at Iowa State University in 2009. She is an associate professor with extension and research responsibilities in corn and soybeans. She has a general background in integrated pest management (IPM) for field crops. Dr. Hodgson's curre...