Chinchbugs are greyish brown about 3mm long and have narrow bodies. Immature bugs have red markings on their bodies. They hide under rocks and clods of dirt in the heat of the day.
Chinch bug-University of California (left), Chinch bug (right)
They thrive in the midwest states but have been found as far north as Wisonsin an as far south as Alabama. In the hotter states like Florida, they have 6 or 7 generations per year. They are also found in Eastern Canada (hairy chinch bugs) with 1-2 generations per year. One reader emailed me and told me that when they were kids they called them ‘oatbugs’ and that they have a very nasty bite!
Hairy Chinchbug (Seen in Canada-left). Chinch bug life cycle (right)
They overwinter in the adult stage in protected areas where weeds are abundant. A harsh cold winter will kill many of the insects off. Eggs are laid in the spring on the ground near host plants or in the leaves. Nymphs climb up stems of plants and feed for almost two months before they become adults. Nymphs resemble the adults but without wings.
Chinch bug nymphs-Photo Jack Kelly Clark (left), A field infested by chinch bugs (right)
Diet and Damage
They are mostly crop pests attacking cotton, barley, wheat, corn and other grain crops. St. augustine is a favourite host for them. They also attack lawns and wild grasses. They first appear in wild weedy grasses and then move over to crops when their food source dries up. These bugs are in the plant sucking category. Plants get deformed, stunted, wilt and die. Severe infestations of these guys will devastate crops.
1) Weed Control, Nitrogen Control & Thatching
Keep weed populations to a minimum in and around your gardens. Chinch bugs start their feeding generally on the high weeds surrounding your property. A slow release nitrogen control such as blood meal or dried blood can help keep the population down. Thatch is an excellent environment for these guys so making sure you dethatch your lawn regularly should also help. Using a mulching mower will also help replace any nitrogen deficiency.
2) Hand Pick
They are not that easy to spot but if you find one, you know there are more. They have a musty odour when you crush them.
3) Predatory Insects
Praying mantids, beneficial wasps, ladybugs, lacewings and big-eyed bugs (they look very similar to chinch bugs
Use a spray of Bt on the plants at the first sign of these bugs. Spray the ground around the plant and half way up the stems. On lawns, spray the areas completely. Repeat every 3 days if necessary.
5) Crop Rotation
Crop rotation is a good way to be sure you get a chance to combat this insect in the following year. Insects overwinter where their food was abundant.