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Those red bugs in my fields!

By: Danielle Stephens, MSc, PAg, IPM Agrologist

Each year bring something different. This year, in terms of insects, it has been the small red bugs reported in various fields in Saskatchewan, which might have turned into greyish-black bugs this week.

What are these bugs?

Bug nymph sample flipped onto backside to
show the sucking-piecing mouthparts
They are indeed bugs, so for those that study insects, they are part of the Order Hemiptera, which we call the true bugs. This is important for two reasons:
  1. The way this Order of insect feeds is through piercing and sucking; see the beak in the first photo, indicated by the red arrow. This means when they feed they will not be chewing but sucking, similar to how Lygus feed.
  2.  Insects in this Order go through instars (immature stages), with each instar looking different from the last. Adult bugs are needed to be able to try to positively identify these bugs, since the instars may not have all the features used to identify the adults. All insects are adults once they have developed wings. In the second picture you can still see the wing “buds” that haven’t formed yet.

So far the expert opinion is that these insects are from the Lygaeidae or the seed bug family. However, it isn’t certain if the insects being reported are the same species in each case. Bugs found in canola and flax fields may be Nysius niger (false chinch bug), as that would be consistent with what has been noted in the past. Since we have had reports of these insects in “various” crops, it is hard to make a further determination based on the host plants. Before you start going to Google, it is important to note that there is a great deal of variation in this group of insects, and the scientific names and common names do not always agree–especially on the internet.

What can you do?

Bug nymphs at different instar stages,
the older nymph is no longer as red in colour.
In this image the young nymph is approximately
1.5 mm in length and the older nymph is approximately 3 mm.
Scout your fields, but make sure you don’t jump to any conclusions. There is no data to say if Nysius niger will cause economic damage to crops; it is best to remember that if you find information on other chinch bugs from other regions of North America, it will not be applicable to our conditions or this species, or what other species might be like under our conditions. It is also important to note that there are no registered insecticide products to control this insect.

If you are seeing these insects in your field and you are also seeing damage, the first thing to do is to determine if the damage you are seeing is being caused by another culprit. Field damage has been described in some cases as “chewing”. This is not consistent with these bugs and their sucking mouthparts, but more consistent with cutworm damage, other chewing insects, or even rodents (eg mice). It is very important to determine if any damage you are seeing is that of cutworms; there was widespread cutworm damage last year, making it a likely suspect. For cutworm identification and scouting information, refer to Cutworm Pests of Crops on the Canadian Prairies from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

Insect identification can be difficult even in the cases where there has been a sample submitted. If you have an insect sample you need identified check out the information on submitting an insect sample to our Crop Protection Lab.

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