Damsel Bugs

Damsel bugs are a true bug from the order Hemiptera. They closely resemble their cousins, the assassin bugs. They are in the family Nabidae which includes over 400 species worldwide.

Damsel Bug

Damsel bugs are generalist predators, meaning that they will feed on almost any other insect. However, they are considered beneficial because their habitat is generally low vegetation and crop fields where leaf eating bugs are considered pests.

The damsel bugs found in North America tend to be light brown to grayish brown and about -inch long. They look similar to assassin bugs but have four segments to their beaks. They use their pincer mouth parts and long front legs to capture prey. The damsel bug then injects its prey with a substance that both paralyzes and liquifies the insides so it can then suck out the juices.

Adult damsel bugs overwinter and emerge in the late spring. Their favorite overwintering spots are winter grain and alfalfa fields. When temperatures warm the female damsel bug lays eggs in the plant tissue of host plants. Nymph damsel bugs resemble their adult counterparts but lack wings and go through five stages of growth in about two months before attaining adulthood. There are usually several generations spread throughout the summer months.

The nymph stages of damsel bugs feed on smaller prey including mites, aphids, and eggs. Adult damsel bugs feed on both large and small prey including spider mites, caterpillars, potato beetles, cabbage worms, corn earworms, and leafhoppers.

Damsel bugs can live up to two weeks without feeding on prey, but if left longer without food they will start eating each other. They tend to eat pest insects, but will also eat other beneficial insects, including big-eyed bugs and minute pirate bugs.

In Europe there are damsel bug species that inhabit trees and are beneficial to orchards. These species help keep gypsy moth and red spider mites under control in fruit orchards. However, the three most populous species in North America are all in field crops including alfalfa, cotton, soybean, and grass pastures. These same species are also often found in grass lawns and ground covers in the home garden.

If threatened, damsel bugs will bite, but their bite is not poisonous and is considered harmless. Sometimes damsel bugs can be seen eating leaves, but this is not their main diet and they will not cause damage to crops or garden vegetation.

While damsel bugs play a substantial role in eliminating pests in crops and home gardens, they are not commercially available. To encourage populations in home gardens, plant low growing plants and ground covers.

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Texas A&M Agrilife Extension: Damsel Bug
University of Wisconsin Entomology: Know Your Friends: Damsel Bugs
US Pest: Western Damsel Bug

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