by Karen Miller, Master Gardener Entomology Specialist
I enjoy hunting for insects in my gardens. Some are cute and colorful, some are really ugly, some smell really bad when bothered and some are just downright scary-looking. But not all ugly, smelly, scary-looking insects are bad. Podisus maculiventris, or the spined soldier bug, is one such insect and is very common in North America. The adult spined soldier bug varies in color from yellowish to pale brownish and covered with small black specks. Their bodies resemble the shape of a shield and have prominent spines or spurs on the shoulders. They are about ½ inch long. The female spined soldier bug will lay several hundred eggs in clusters of 20 or 30 on twigs and leaves in your garden. These barrel shaped eggs are grey, cream or gold in color. As the nymphs hatch, they initially cluster around the hatched eggs, then they disperse to feed. The first stage may feed on the plant juices, doing little harm to the plant, but the later stages are predacious. Each female can lay up to 1,000 eggs and the adult spined soldier bug has been known to live up to 3 months. The spined soldier bug is a generalist predator with a broad host range. It has been reported to prey on 90 to 100 insect species, with their prime targets being immature insects. The spined soldier bug is a true bug. It feeds though a sharp, narrow proboscis which sucks the life juices from its preyleaving the empty shell behind. The spined soldier bug can be found mostly where crops are grown, including potatoes, tomatoes, sweet corn, beans, eggplant, onions and apples. These predators are released in the fields to control particular pests affecting the crop planted at that time. The spined soldier bug is not picky and will eat most pests. The corn borer, diamondbacked moth, corn earworm, armyworm, cabbage looper, Mexican bean beetle and the Colorado potato beetle are among the hundreds of species the adults prey on. They will even attack pests that are much larger than they are. Bottom line: The spined soldier bug is one of the more prominent predatory stink bugs in North America. Yes, that is what I said – STINK BUG! It is sometimes confused with the species which are common plant feeding stink bugs. Regardless of how bad it smells, the spined soldier bug is a very beneficial insect. Unfortunately, we cannot all be lady beetles and butterflies.