Fall is my favorite time of year! Football games… cool, crisp mornings… crops maturing in the fields… less humidity… these are all things that make fall great. If I could find some place to live where it was fall year-round, I’d consider moving there in a heartbeat. The only problem is, so many other people would want to live there, too, and it would be so crowded I wouldn’t enjoy it.
Fall is not without its drawbacks and I first experienced one of those this last week. Minute pirate bugs have been around us all summer, but we didn’t notice them as they spent most of their time in fields, feeding on other insect eggs and other small insects. They are beneficial insects, limiting the number of pests in fields and gardens.
As crops mature and are harvested, they will migrate out of fields. It’s hard to remember that they are a beneficial insect this time of year when they begin their disagreeable behavior of biting humans. Their bite is surprisingly painful for such a small insect, about 1/5 of an inch long, oval to triangular in shape, somewhat flattened and black with whitish markings on the back. They do not feed on blood or inject a venom or saliva.
People differ in their response to the bites. Some people will swell up like a mosquito bite, some will turn red, and for others there is no reaction at all. Control of minute pirate bugs is not practical. Repellents generally are not effective, although some people have found liberally applying baby oil or suntan oil to the skin may prevent some bites.
Another beneficial insect that becomes a pest in the fall is the multicolored Asian ladybird beetle, or ladybug. Actually there are many species of ladybugs, or more correctly lady beetles, in Nebraska. However, this species is particularly beneficial as it feeds on other insects, particularly aphids, in the summer. However, in the fall they are particularly annoying, congregating on homes and finding any available opening to get inside.
This lady beetle follows a similar pattern to minute pirate bugs, spending its summers in fields and moving to homes in the fall, although it’s usually several weeks later when they migrate from fields to around homes. They can also deliver a bite, although their bite is probably better described as annoying compared to the painful bites of minute pirate bugs. They also emit an unpleasant odor, especially when they congregate in large numbers in the fall.
Both insects will try to get in homes in the fall as they look for a protected place to spend the winter, although lady beetles are more notorious for this. Once inside a home, neither will damage house plants or contents, although lady beetles can emit a secretion that will stain fabric or wallpaper, especially if they are squished.
The best method to control either of these insects inside the home is to keep them outside. Locate possible entry points and use caulking to seal cracks and crevices. Use weather stripping to insure a tight seal around doors and windows, and make sure screens are in good repair. Spraying them with an insecticide has limited effects because others will migrate in, replacing any you might have killed.
For more information on minute pirate bugs or multicolored Asian ladybird beetles, contact your local Nebraska Extension office.