Minute Pirate Bugs

Minute pirate bugs, also called Orius, are predatory insects in the order Hemiptera. As the name suggests, the pirate bug is very small with nymphs less than 1/8 of an inch long and adults only up to of an inch long. Despite their small size, these insect feed voraciously on small plant pests.

Minute Pirate Bug

Minute pirate bugs are generalist feeders, but because of their small size, they tend to feed on smaller pests such as thrips, scale, mites, leafhoppers, whiteflies, aphids, and the eggs and larvae of these pests. They kill by piercing the bodies of their prey and sucking out the insides, leaving a small empty shell behind.

Female minute pirate bugs lay their eggs inside plant tissue with the top edge of the egg sticking out. The eggs hatch into very small nymphs within a few days. The nymphs are tin and orangish-yellow and lack the wings of an adult pirate bug. Adult minute pirate bugs are black with white to light brown triangular markings. The nymph passes through several instars (stages) within the short, 25 day life cycle before becoming adults and laying more eggs. The short life cycle allows several generations to complete during the summer. Adults overwinter in leaf litter to emerge again in the spring.

If prey is abundant, the minute pirate bug will actually kill more prey than it eats. However, if prey is scarce they will feed on plant leaves, though they are not known to do much damage. The larger nymph and adult stages can eat more than 30 spider mites a day, a huge amount considering their size.

Minute pirate bugs generally migrate in huge numbers from crop fields to wooded areas in the late fall in order to overwinter in leaf litter. When they migrate they tend to become a nuisance to gardeners because of their tendency to bite. One particular species of minute pirate bug called the insidious flower bug is notorious for biting humans but is still considered a beneficial. The insidious flower bug is marked similarly to regular minute pirate bugs, but is black and green in color. The bite can be similar in pain to that of a mosquito bite.

Minute pirate bugs are available for purchase both for large scale farmers and home gardeners. They are used in particular to control pests on crops such as alfalfa, corn, cotton, soybeans, and tomatoes. To attract minute pirate bugs, plant alfalfa, fennel, cosmos, and goldenrod.

Minute pirate bugs are often used in greenhouses to control small pests. Minute pirate bugs propagate faster and thrive in warm humid conditions, and the multiple generations will keep pests controlled in a greenhouse year-round.

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Resources:

Texas A&M Agrilife Extension: Minute Pirate Bug
Garden Insects: Natural Pest Control With Orius
Farmer Fred: Plants That Attract Beneficial Insects
University of Wisconsin Entomology: Know Your Friends: Minute Pirate Bugs

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