I like bugs. (Except house centipedes. Those can GTFO.)
I’ve always found them fascinating and worthy of stooping down to study them. If you have a garden, this personality quirk is actually pretty useful—not only will you learn which creepy-crawlies are usually in your garden, but you’ll probably take the time to learn which ones are beneficial to your plant babies, and which ones really, really aren’t.
One day recently, I spied what thought were male and female spined soldier bugs hanging out on the wooden trellis by my squash plants. It was early June, and the bug population was starting to increase.
Spined soldier bugs are super handy to have around. They eat a LOT of other, pesky bugs that you don’t want around, including Colorado potato beetles and Mexican bean beetles.
“Yay!” I thought. “Hopefully they’ll have lots of babies and protect my plants!”
When I went out to the garden about a week later, I found a clutch of eggs glued to the bottom of a squash leaf. I continued to look, and found another cluster of eggs, this time surrounded by tiny blue mini-mes of the mama and daddy I’d seen before.
As I ran inside to get my phone so I could take a picture, I thought, “That’s a lot of baby bugs. I should make sure they’re actually soldier bugs.”
MAN am I glad I did. Because they weren’t spined soldier bugs. They were squash bugs. And they were everywhere.
What’s a squash bug?
Squash bugs are pests, first and foremost. And they’re very common in the garden. They feed on all manner of cucurbits: butternut, acorn and spaghetti squash, as well as pumpkin and cucumbers—though I even found some eggs on a tomato plant. They emerge in mid-summer, and begin to lay eggs along the underside of squash leaves.
Even a few squash bugs in the garden can decimate your chances of a decent harvest. That’s because they don’t just attack leaves…they attack stems and fruit, too.
How do you identify a squash bug?
I wasn’t too hard on myself for mistaking them for spined soldier bugs. I was a gardening newbie, and as you can see, the adults look sort of similar—spotted black and brown, with a diamond shape on their back.
But the spined soldier bug clearly has spines pointing out from his “shoulders,” and squash bugs (both male and female) are longer. If you have any nymphs around, it’s even easier to tell them apart. Like I said, squash bug nymphs have a very similar body shape to adult bugs. The ones I found were grayish blue, with black legs. Spined soldier bug nymphs, on the other hand, look like little reddish beetles with a big oval on their butts.
How do I get rid of squash bugs?
Pesticides don’t really work well on squash bugs, sorry. You’re going to have to take a more direct approach.
And by that, I mean remove them by hand. I know, I know. It’s not fun. They can get big, so it’s a little creepy. But the good news is that they don’t bite!
The easiest (and least ick-worthy) removal method is to get a cup or container of warm, soapy water, and use your finger to brush the nymphs and adult bugs into it. The soap breaks the surface tension of the water, so the bugs will sink to the bottom and drown.
The eggs are harder to remove because they’re stuck on there pretty good. It’s a little gross, but you’re best off using your fingernails to scrape them off the leaf. Just grit your teeth through it and go wash your hands really well later.
Of course, you’re bound to miss a few, like I did. But I found myself picking remaining nymphs off with my fingers, and squishing them easily. (You get over the gross factor.) They get bigger as the days go by, but they stay the same grayish blue color for a while, which makes them easy to see against the bright green and yellow of the stems and squash blossoms.
If you feel a little bad about all this, remember: it’s them or your squash.
Want more information on bugs and how to identify them? Check out your local university’s entomology web page, or your local research and extension office, for information and guides relevant to bugs in your area.
Also! I just joined The Big Bug Hunt, and it’s really cool. You report pest sightings, and they send you news of pest sightings/warnings in your area, so you have time to take precautions against anything relevant to what you’re growing. I LOVE IT.
Have you been to battle with squash bugs? What solutions have you tried? Tell us in the comments below!