Discovering a hidden haven in the Latrobe Valley, Victoria, Australia

The William Shakespeare bloom that was the bud covered in Harlequin bugs a couple of days ago. It is quite unharmed, but...

I’ve been spending far too much time with the bugs. I was caught yesterday standing in the middle of a garden bed apparently staring, with great absorption, at nothing at all.

It was in fact a bug. I was watching its habits. It was very interesting.

Adult Dindymus versicolour 28th Jan 2010

I think I’ve confirmed that the shiny little red critters and multicoloured adult bug of my last post are Harlequin Bugs (Dindymus versicolour) which are a species of ‘true bugs’ related to Dysdercus cingulatus – the Cotton Stainer Bug and a member of the Pyrrhocoridae family.

The Australian Biological Resources Study which is a great resource on these bugs tells me this is a family of pentatomomorphan bugs. Now there’s a word. And here I was thinking that trying to work out botanical names was going to give me a headache*

Morwell National Park (which is not too far from where I live) has a great database of all the fauna and flora in the park and you can find a photo of the adult and young Dindymus versicolour bugs here. These photos confirmed that both the critters I was looking at were indeed the same bug.

My little friend ‘Dindy’ can be trouble as, according the The NSW Dept of Primary Industries:

“Harlequin bug, Dindymus versicolor, may attack a wide range of crop and ornamental plants, such as cotton, pome fruits, stone fruits, fig, grape, kurrajong, strawberry, vegetables, wisteria, dahlia and violet. When they are present in large numbers their feeding makes growing tips wilt or spoils fruit.”     Prime Facts – Sheet No 508, May 2007.  http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au

My personal observations have revealed that:

a) They like to run around a lot.

b) They cluster together under leaves, adults seeming to babysit young.

c) They do a strange little ‘antenna dance’ when they meet each other doing their favourite activity, which is running around a lot.

d) They didn’t eat the first rose bud.

e) Nothing seems to be eating them.

f) The were found near the scene of the crime of this damaged rose bud…

Dindymus versicolour at the scene of the crime on a rose bud, but is he the true culprit, or has he been framed?

but then again so was this (hmm… more research ahead):

The real problem? I think it's a member of the leafhopper family and not sure if it's friend or foe.

and this…

The Passion Vine Hopper, which is a known sap sucker

In a nutshell it seems that Harlequin Bugs are a pest for commercial crops and the home garden. More bad news is that predators generally don’t find them to be a tasty snack as they smell and taste bad.

However some sources  suggest that they generally don’t do enough damage to be concerned about unless they appear in seriously large numbers, so there’s no need to panic and reach for the toxic spray. I do see the occasional badly damaged rose bud in my garden, but still have plenty of unharmed blooms to enjoy, and I haven’t yet seen with my own eyes who is actually doing the damage.  So I’m not risking killing hover flies and ladybugs to reduce the number of Harlequin bugs.

The Harlequin Bugs do have cousins in many parts of the world. I mentioned Bangchik’s  photo of red bugs on a Roselle from his ‘My Little Vegetable Garden’ Blog in Malaysia last time. Diana from Elephant’s Eye in South Africa also mentioned in the comments that she had a post recently on Shield bugs. Have a look at her amazing photos at Elephant’s Eye . Autumn Belle who keeps the wonderful  ‘My Nice Garden’ blog mentioned seeing them in her garden in Malaysia too.

I’d be very interested to know if you have them in your garden and if you have a photo to share. I’d be particularly interested to know if you have caught them in the act of eating one of your plants!

*I am pleased to announce that I now know my Brachyscombes from my Bracheantha. I think.

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Comments on: "Is the Harlequin Bug really the garden thug I should be worried about?" (20)

  1. I get something that looks as colourful as this beauty … never caught it in the acting of munching on a plant though. I do have a photo of the bug that visited my place but I’m not sure what to do with it. Still trying to work out this stuff.

  2. Well, now that you mention it I’m not sure about how to share a photo via comments either Bernie!

    Maybe if you have a spot in one of your posts one day where it might fit in context I could link back to it? No hurry really, just interested in distribution and the differences people find in this bug!

  3. I’ve added a link for you GG … just copy and paste and have a look.

    I’m really not sure what sort of insect this beauty is!

  4. Sorry, no need to copy and paste as it turns out … just click.

  5. Hmm. You’ve got me stumped, it looks a bit like a cross between my little friend ‘Dindy’ and some sort of shield bug. I’ve been digging around but can’t find an exact match.
    The best I can do at the minute is say it certainly looks like it fits the description for a ‘true bug’ (Order Hemiptera, suborder Heteroptera) as described here: http://www.bugwise.net.au/guide/true-bugs

    I’m determined I will find it eventually!

  6. Well thanks for trying … I tried for ages to find anything that looked like this, but had no luck.

  7. This bug is starting to really get under my skin! It’ patterning is so distinctive, you’d think it would be easy to find.
    I’ve just been looking for it again at http://davesgarden.com/guides/bf/b/Hemiptera/none/none/none/genus/400 which has a good list of Hemiptera and if they haven’t had a photo I’ve Googled the genus they have listed. Still nothing.
    If you ever find out Bernie – please let me know!

  8. It bugged me for weeks GG … I just gave up in disgust when I found myself goggling bugs at 3.00 am in the morning! If I ever do find out you’ll be the first one I’ll tell.

  9. [...] big mouthfulls out of some of my blooms and I’ve been trying to figure out who she is since January. A harlequin bug copping the [...]

  10. [...] last January I was wittering on about how I have Harlequin bugs (Dindymus Versicolour) in my garden but that they don’t seem to do much damage. How wrong [...]

  11. Just come across your comments on this horrible bug… you have to get rid of them, they are really bad news, they suck the life out of anything that is budding – I’m in west of melbourne and already with the warmer weather they are sucking the new sprouts of rose leaves, plum blossoms, all varieties of daisies and they especially love the bottle brush flowers. The only way is DEATH!! I squish them (yuk!) or hold a pan of boiling water & get them to fall in – I am now obsessed with the critters and do this 2/3 times a day before work. I have discovered tonight that eucalyptus oil (1 tspoon) + 1/2 tspoon dishwashing liquid + 500 ml water sprayed on the plant deters ? or kills ? (not sure which) so that’s my aim tomorrow – I will also chant a magic chant as I make it up!!

  12. They are infesting our garden, we can catch them when they are copulating by holding a pot of hot water under them which they obligingly drop into, and all seemed to be well, until we checked out nectarine tree and there are loads of them there busy destroying the fruit. And now, the babies are busy eating the newly planted flowers. I havent tried any sprays yet but would love to hear any success stories.

    • Hi Karyn and thanks for visiting :) I wish I could share success stories, but they are worse than ever in my garden this year too :( I’ve been walking around with a bucket or soapy water, flicking as many in as I can. I’m going to try spraying with soapy water this weekend – the soap suffocates them, but it’s still a time intensive method!

  13. and weve been having lots of rain so everythjing is growing including weeds which someone said they like to hide in… (Canberra)

  14. Okay, then, so will continue with the grab and squash method, (any copulating bugs get grabbed and put on the path and then stepped on..).which I am pleased to say still yeilds a few bugs with out even thinking,,+ getting the girls to do the hot water method,
    just so upsetting when I see that the babies have alredy hatched and started to eat the flowers…

    • Sounds like the only way to go at the moment Karyn, but let me know if you come up with anything more effective – I’d love to know as I’m already scared for my tomato crop this year!

  15. warm soapy water in a spray bottle, washing powder does the trick. just keep spraying them. you will often find a big cluster of them (nest) spray or pour heaps of the soapy water on them. it kills them

  16. [...] that I thought the Harlequin Bug was kind of attractive in its little soldier’s red coat and thought it was probably harmless.  After all, I could see that it was the caterpillars and the katydids that were doing the most [...]

  17. I quite enjoyed reading this blog post of yours–it made me laugh even. :-) It’s written in a really fun style–I loved the suspense you set up with all the photos of the possible suspects!

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