Minute Pirate Bugs: Beneficial Pest Control With A Love/Hate Relationship

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Minute Pirate Bugs (scientific name: Orius insidiosus) are all around us most of the time, and we don’t even notice them. These tiny black bugs are beneficial insects, abundant in yards, gardens, woodlands, pastures, and farmlands.

Pirate bugs are Hemiptera (true bugs) and members of the insect family Anthocoridae.

Minute Pirate Bugs feeding on white fly nymphsPin
Minute Pirate Bug feeding on whitefly nymphs

Like all true bugs, these little critters have very sharp, sucking mouthparts. They use their little needle-like beaks to suck the life out of a wide variety of garden pests sucking plant juices and feeding on agricultural crops.

They also suck nectar from flowers and sap from plant tissue.

At certain times of the year, they also explore the possibility of finding a meal on a sweaty human. What’s up with that?

In this article, we discuss the perplexing Minute Pirate Bug and share advice on coexisting successfully with this ubiquitous predatory insect.

What Does A Minute Pirate Bug Look Like?

As the name implies, these bugs are very small. Adults are no bigger than about an eighth of an inch long. They are oval-shaped, have black bodies with white wing patches.

Nymphs do not have wing patches and cannot fly. Adults do fly and cover large areas in search of prey insects, plant sap, nectar, and pollen.

What Is The Life Cycle Of The Minute Pirate Bug?

Female Pirate Bugs lay about a hundred eggs in their brief lifetimes. They hide the tiny eggs inside plant tissues where they cannot be seen or consumed by other bugs.

The insect eggs hatch within four or five days, and the tiny nymphs begin their quick transition through five instars (molts) from miniature adult to mature adult. This takes about twenty days.

Where Do You Find Minute Pirate Bugs?

In the autumn, when plants and prey begin to die off, you may not need to look very hard to find Pirate Bugs. You may find yourself swarmed with them as you go about your everyday tasks outdoors.

On the other hand, you may have to look carefully to locate them during the spring and summer, when they usually stay very close to flowering plants.

You’ll probably have good luck finding them during the summer if you search a corn field. They often lurk amongst the corn silk because they are an important predator of corn earworm eggs.

If you need Pirate Bugs for biological control to help reduce insect pests in your yard or garden, you can purchase them from an insectary. When ordered, your beneficial insects will be shipped to you in a container of vermiculite, rice hulls or bran.

The package will contain adult Minute Pirate Bug insects and instructions on releasing them into your yard or garden successfully.

Generally speaking, the release is quite simple. Just shake the container (filler and all) over the area of the garden you wish to treat. Your new residents should get right to work hunting down plant pests as a food source.

How Many Pirate Bug Species Are There?

The Anthocoridae family of bugs is made up of five or six-hundred different species around the world. The family name comes from the Greek words, anthos (flower) and koris (bug).

This is why these “little bugs” are often called “flower bugs” Orius insidiosus is the most common species in North America. This little garden helper is often called the “insidious flower bug.”

How Are Minute Pirate Bugs Beneficial?

Nymphs and adults are excellent biological control agents. Both immature and mature individuals can eat over thirty spider mites in a single day.

Minute Pirate Bugs make short work of corn earworms, European corn borers and their eggs. They are also natural enemies of:

  • Potato leafhopper nymphs
  • Potato aphids
  • Corn leaf aphids
  • Thrips
  • Spider mites
  • Whiteflies
  • Small caterpillars (more on How To Kill Caterpillars)

… and a number of other small insect pests and their eggs.

Once their spring and summer work is done, insidious flower bugs may find themselves going begging for a meal. This is when they start exploring the idea of taking a meal from human sweat.

If you are outdoors in the late summer/early autumn and you have exposed, sweaty skin, you may be the recipient of some painful bites.

Why Does The Minute Pirate Bug Bite Hurt So Much?

According to ridiculous urban legend, it’s because the bug has very acidic urine, which it releases on you when it bites you. This is absolutely untrue.

The fact is, it just hurts because you are getting a “big painful bite” by being poked very hard with a very pointy needle-like beak, wielded by a very hungry bug.

Even though these bugs don’t drink human blood or inject venom or saliva when they bite, their exploratory poking with their sharp, sucking mouthparts hurts like the very devil.

You may or may not experience redness or swelling from their bites. Reactions vary from one person to another.

You may be glad to know that if you feel the need to retaliate, you will probably be able to swat the bug that bit you.

Can Pirate Bug Bites Harm You?

Not everyone gets bitten by Pirate Bugs. They seem to be more attracted to some people than others.

Those bitten may have no reaction or reactions ranging from a small, red, itchy lump like a mosquito bite to a generalized rash.

Even though the Minute Pirate Bug’s bite is very painful and may cause some redness and swelling, it is not really harmful.

If you do experience irritation and/or pain, wash the area with cool water, pat it dry and apply an ice pack to reduce swelling.

How Do You Repel Minute Pirate Bugs?

You will most likely to encounter these bugs on bright, warm days. If you can work outdoors on cooler, cloudier days or after sunset, you will be less likely to be bitten by Pirate Bugs.

Wear dark colors because these bugs are attracted to light colors. Wear long sleeves and long pants.

According to most accounts, standard insect repellents have no effect on these bugs. Your best bet is to cover your bare skin if you are in an area where Pirate Bugs are likely to be encountered.

Can These Minute Little Bugs Be Controlled?

Because there are so many of these “flower bugs” they are everywhere, and because they are really a beneficial insect, attempting to control or eradicate them is not a good idea.

It would also be very difficult to do if you were to try.

These bugs are fast moving and constantly on the move. They migrate from one place to another daily throughout the spring and summer months.

Their migration activity is entirely unpredictable, but you will see them more often on bright, sunny days.

Use of harsh pesticides can definitely reduce their population, and using systemic insecticides may kill them off because they do drink plant sap.

Even so, using harsh chemicals is sure to backfire.

When you rely on chemical control for pest management, you end up killing off all the good bugs and strengthening the pests.

It’s far better to just take steps to repel Minute Pirate Bugs during the short period of time when their behavior becomes problematic. Keep in mind that when cold weather comes, Pirate Bugs will go.

Are Minute Pirate Bugs Good Or Bad?

Most of the time, insidious flower bugs are good. When they aren’t good, they are just hungry and nearing the end of their life cycle.

For this reason, it’s best become a Master Gardener and learn to live with them this includes putting up with their brief bout of bad behavior.

Remember, as generalist predators, they do us a tremendous service helping us fight off all manner of destructive pests in forests, in our home gardens, and in agricultural settings.

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