Plants commonly attacked by the harlequin bug include such crucifers as horseradish, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, mustard, Brussels sprouts, turnip, kohlrabi, and radish. In the absence of these favorite hosts, tomato, potato, eggplant, okra, bean, asparagus, beet, weeds, fruit trees, and field crops may be eaten.
The harlequin bug is an important insect pest of cabbage and related crops in the southern half of the United States. This pest has the ability to destroy the entire crop where it is not controlled. The harlequin bug injures the host plants by sucking the sap of the plants, causing the plants to wilt, brown, and die.
The harlequin bug is a southern insect ranging from the Atlantic to the Pacific. This insect is rarely found north of Colorado and Pennsylvania. It first spread over the south from Mexico shortly after the Civil War.
The harlequin bug feeds on its host plant by sucking the plant’s juices. The literal “sucking-to-death” of the host plant results in wilting, browning, and eventual death. Throughout most of its range, the harlequin bug continues to feed and reproduce during the entire year. Further north, the approaching winter drives the bugs into the shelter of cabbage stalks, bunches of grass, and other rubbish. Adults are usually the only stage to survive winter conditions. During the first few warm days of spring the adults emerge by the time the earliest garden plants are set out.
Hand-picking and destruction of the insect pests and egg masses may deter damage where low numbers of insects are found. Hand destruction of the adults in the fall and spring as they emerge from “hibernation” before they lay eggs is an effective control. This may be aided by the use of trap crops of turnip, kale, or mustard in the very early spring or late in the fall after the main crop has been harvested. Once the pests have concentrated in these areas, they can be killed by applying insecticides or by covering the trap crop with straw and burning. Trap crops should never be used unless they can be given careful attention to destroy the bugs attracted to them.
The bugs may be controlled with insecticides.