Written by Angie Lynch
For this week’s blog post it’s important for you to know that we, on the farm, love bees. I know, everyone says they love bees; it’s very trendy to love bees right now. But I really do think we have a deeper understanding and appreciation for them than the average person. We spend time admiring their hard work every day, and we benefit from that hard work more than most. At BiHi Park we pet them, take literally hundreds of pictures of them, and create informative signs to help protect their nests.
Our favorite pollinator on our zinnia
So, when we came upon a reddish-orange creature apparently eating a bee, we were understandably upset and disturbed. And, in a season in which we already had issues with Squash bugs and Cucumber beetles, I was fearing the worst, thinking oh great, now we have aggressive little bee-killers. BUT, the scientist in me was intrigued, and no one on the farm had seen this kind of behaviour before, so we did some research.
A predatory stink bug predating a bee on the farm
We found out that our creature is a predatory stink bugs, specifically a spined soldier bug (Podisus maculiventris) nymph. We also discovered that having these guys around the garden is not actually bad news at all! Unlike other stink bugs, predatory stink bugs are a gardener’s friend, generally feeding on insect pests. Both nymphs and adults attack insects larger than themselves, and suck the body fluids from their prey with a needle-like beak. Spined soldier bugs predate a wide variety of insects including: Mexican bean beetles, European corn borers, diamondback moths, corn earworms, beet armyworms, fall armyworms, cabbage loopers, imported cabbageworms, Colorado potato beetles, velvetbean caterpillars and flea beetles (and apparently bees on occasion). The spined soldier bug can be found throughout most of North America, on plants where prey insects are feeding. These include: potatoes, tomatoes, sweet corn, cole crops, beans, eggplant, cucurbits, asparagus, apples, and onions. This species is so good at controlling pest insects that it is commonly used as a biological control species within greenhouses.
Photo credit: http://mobugs.blogspot.com
Naturally-occurring populations of spined soldier bug should be conserved. This can be accomplished by learning to recognize all life stages (there is a good visual guide here) and leaving them undisturbed. This is particularly important as the spined soldier bug looks very similar to a new pest expected in our area any day now- the brown marmorated stink bug. The picture below highlights a couple of the key physical differences between the two species. Populations of spined soldier bug can also be encouraged by planting a variety of crops and flowers in your garden or field.
Photo credit: stopbmsb.org
So, while we were initially upset by this bugs presence, now we’re pretty thrilled to have them hanging around the farm. We just hope they figure out to only predate pests, and to leave our beloved bees alone!
Berish, C. (2013). Spined Soldier Bug in Kentucky. https://entomology.ca.uky.edu/ef325
McCann, S. (2008). Species Podisus maculiventris – Spined Soldier Bug. https://bugguide.net/node/view/237854
University of Maryland. (n.d.). Predatory Stink Bugs. https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/predatory-stink-bugs