Hello dear friends. Today I’d like to introduce you to a fairly recent transplant to the California and Southwest home garden scene. Everyone, this is the Bragada Bug (a.k.a. Painted Bug). Bragada Bug… these wonderful folks are my friends.
Let me forewarn you. I try to stay upbeat and positive in all areas of my life, including my gardening adventures, but to be truthful, this bug has me a bit nervous. There’s nothing funny about this invasive pest. It’s very prolific, both adults and nymphs have a ferocious appetite and as individuals and en masse, they can be extremely destructive to your precious home-grown veggie plants.
Here’s a few highlights that I’ve learned about the Bragada Bug…
It looks almost identical to a Harlequin bug, but it’s a fraction of its size ~ and it is not a Harlequin bug, it’s a small stink bug (Pentatomidae: Heteroptera)
It originated from Africa and India
First discovered in Orange County, California in 2008 its spread throughout California and east to Arizona within two years time ~ yikes!
It’s a warm season insect and loves hot and arid climates and adults begin to fly when temps are above 85°F ~ bad news for us folks in the southwest
They are most active and on the plants during the hottest part of the day
They hide in the soil, base of plants or under leaves during cool parts of the day
Females can lay approximately 100 eggs in just 2-3 short weeks ~ and the eggs can hatch within 4-8 days depending on how hot it is (heat hastens the process)
There are very few control products available to big ag and even fewer control products for the organic gardener 😦
It has an insatiable appetite for cole crops, but wait… it doesn’t end there (see Plant List below)
It leaves a telltale light green starburst pattern on the leaves after feeding (see Damage below)
Okay, we’ve had our fair share of bugs to contend with in our gardens over the years, but this one… this one is a formidable garden adversary that could bring some of us to our knees crying and blubbering all over ourselves and our loved ones, especially if this pest is seen in the hundreds huddling together and feasting in unison on our most beloved veggie plants.
Chin up gardeners… we will get through this together one Bragada Bug at a time. There is hope. We will prevail! So far, I’ve been able to keep this pesky little bug under control in my garden. I have a strategy based on research, diligence and patience that seems to be working and I’ll be very happy to share that with you later in this post.
A Birds-Eye Perspective
Now that I’ve given you a brief introduction to the Bragada Bug, let’s take a little closer look at our new garden friend (wink, wink). It’s diminutive size alone can make it challenging to see in the garden and usually goes unnoticed until their numbers begin to increase. By then, they’ve already begun to get a foot hold in your garden.
In my research, I came across a number of online sites that, in my opinion, did a poor job of describing the actual size of this pest. Sure they gave measurements and “described their size” with written words, one even had a silhouette of the pest’s actual size and others showed photos that were difficult to discern the size from. So, here’s my attempt to demonstrate their actual size to you.
This photo shows you a number of (dead ~ sorry) adult Bragada Bugs. I had captured a number of them to help me identify them through research and during their stay in their plastic accommodations, they perished. About one week later, I was about ready to toss out the plastic baggie when I noticed something moving among the bug debris… a Bragada Bug nymph. Apparently, one of the adults had babies during their stay and one was still alive. Look at the size of that little guy (or gal). Think you can see this nymph in your veggie garden walking along the soil?
Bragada Bugs favs…
According to UC Davis IPM, the following plants are required for optimal reproduction and is under serious threat by the Bragada bug (invasive):
- Mustard plants (Host plants)
- Cruciferous weeds such as various wild mustards, shepherd’s purse, London rocket, and pepperweed
- Brassica genus crops and related cruciferous crops
- asian greens (i.e., bok choi, tatsoi, etc.)
- brussel sprouts
- chinese cabbage
- mustard greens (black, indian, mizuna, etc.)
- Ornamental landscape plants
- Sweet Alyssum
When Brigada Bug densities are high and crucifers are scarce, they can attack the vegetative and flowering growth of…
- grasses (i.e., bermuda)
- and some legumes, including snap beans
And cause feeding damage on the fruit of…
- bell peppers
Both the adults and nymphs feed on the leaves, stems (growth points), flowers, and seeds of your garden plants. They have a needle-like mouth part that they insert into the plant tissue in a “sawing-like” motion in which they inject a digestive enzyme (yuck) and suck down juices and usually the life out of whatever they’re feasting on. Their feeding habits leave a telltale sign of their presence… a light green starburst lesion.
From a distance, it may be hard to see the starburst pattern and may look like “scorched” leaves, but upon closer inspection, the evidence is clear.
The Bragada Bugs likes to go after young seedling cotelydons and growth points (terminal bud) and are usually successful in either stunting its growth or the more likely outcome, the untimely death of the seedling. And it goes without saying, if you see these pests in your garden, take special care to watch over your seedlings, especially if the plant is one of their favs (see Plant List above). Keep in mind that a single Bragada Bug can and will suck the life out of small seedling cotelydons within just a few days. Just think what two or more Bragada Bugs could do. Frightening.
Currently these pests seem to flock to following plants in my veggie garden:
- Bok Choi
- Mizuna (mustard)
After discovering them in my garden and doing some intensive research on these little stinkbugs, I decided to pull out my Bok Choi and Nasturtiums and leave the Tatsoi and Mizuna (which are planted right next to each other) as “trap” plants. To date, I’ve been able to use these two “trap” plants successfully to unleash my feverish assaults on these guys. I have officially declared war. There will be no yield reductions, misshapen or premature plant loss to these guys in my garden. Not on my watch. F-R-E-E-D-O-M! Yeah, too many movies.
So What Can An Organic Home Gardening Health-Conscious Beneficial Lovin’ Chem-Phobe Person Do?
Here’s my recommendation based on the success I’ve had to date in keeping this buggar’s numbers low in my garden…
- Build the health of your soil and plants ~ this is an important one. Healthy soil is chock full of nutrition, minerals and microbes that help to fortify your veggie plants. It’s a well-known fact that unhealthy plants attract and harbor pests and healthy plants are able to withstand their attacks and are typically left alone. FYI: the plants that are being attacked in my garden are cool weather plants under 30% shade cloth and were struggling just a bit to begin with.
- Early detection ~ Bragada bug populations can grow in size very quickly if left unchecked in the home garden. I’ve seen photos (online) of these guys clustered together by the thousands in a small area, something no home gardener wants to see in their garden.When I first saw this pest in my garden, it took me a couple of weeks to find out its true identity. Normally, when I discover a new pest in my garden, I quickly research my subject at hand with a goal of seeking out answers within a couple of days. I have to admit I was a little slack this time and a bit over-confident in the fact that I have had very few pests this year. Credit to the improvements we’ve made to our raised bed soil (microbes, minerals, etc.) and to our weekly holistic sprays in our veggie garden. Knowing what I know now about these guys, I’m thankful that I was smart enough to continue my daily “squishing” of these pests when I found them.I also began to notice a pattern… they really liked my Tatsoi plant and nasturtiums.
- Daily Search and Destroy ~ Unfortunately, you have to keep a constant look out for these guys. As soon as you turn your back or get comfortable with their reduced numbers, they’ll breed like rabbits on too much caffeine and out number you 100+ to 1. Just be sure to add this task to your daily gardening routine. 1x a day is good. 2x a day is better. 3x a day is best! Remember, these guys like to get busy during the hottest part of the day, so if you’re used to going out first thing in the morning to tend to your garden, they may still be in the soil or tucked in at the base of your plants to stay warm. A visit to the garden around 2PM or 3PM is in order and then a final check in the early evening while the sun is still out. If you do this every day, it will only take a few minutes each time.
Most days we find about 20 or so of these guys (usually as attached couples), but on cooler days we’ll find significantly less.
- Now the Destroy part ~ harsh words for an insect, I know, but seriously… these guys can make a quick mess of your beautiful hard-earned veggie garden. Though I do not believe in total annihilation, these pests do need to be kept in check or their numbers will grow to uncontrollable proportions in no time. The secret weapon?
- A 32 ounce spray bottle (set to a strong stream) and 2 teaspoons of Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Castile Soap or Seventh Generation Unscented Liquid Dish Soap. That’s it? Yes, that’s it. Trust me, I’ve tested this recipe about a hundred times now and it works.Simply keep your spray bottle/soapy solution with you at all times in the garden and when you see a Bragada Bug, give em’ a good squirt. Make sure the soapy water makes contact with them. Spraying it just on the leaves or ground for some unsuspecting Bragada Bug to stumble upon simply won’t work. The soapy water takes about 10 seconds to do its magic. First they’ll pull themselves up and out of the soapy water and slowly walk away. In just a second or two, they’ll look like they’re picking up their skirt to tip toe carefully through a mud puddle, then begin to wobble as they walk and finally flip over and die.
- Squish them ~ in my opinion, the soapy water is the best solution, but if you’d like to take out a little aggression or do not have your soapy water handy, go for it. Most stinkbugs emit an offensive odor when squished, but I have not noticed any odor coming from these guys, and trust me, I’ve squished my fair share em’ this past month. Another thing to keep in mind is that these guys are fast, so when you see them, you need to act quickly. Also, if you’re trying to sneak up on them, try not to cast a shadow over the plant they’re on. I’ve noticed that when this happens, the Bragadas on the plant take the warning very seriously and are on alert or begin to scatter. Note: Diatomaceous earth does not work! DE does not affect these guys. Using my hand puffer device, I thoroughly “puffed” em until they looked like little walking powder puffs but to my utter dismay, I found them carrying on normal business in my garden several hours later, powder-do and all. I was even able to flip a few on their back (three to be exact) and puffed em’. Nothing. Nada. Energizer bunnies I tell you.
- Grow a Trap Plant ~ Now this one I’m still on the fence about and am hesitant in recommending it to you. I happen to have two trap plants that are planted next to each other not because I was being all smart and planning for these pests, but rather it was dumb luck that I had planted the Bragada Bug favs just before their appearance. Who knows… it could have been these plants that attracted them to my garden in the first place. Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, I made a decision to keep these two plants and removed all the other brassica plants from my garden with the exception of two healthy, happy and “untouched” Red Russian Kale. Trust me, I’m keeping a close eye on them. Soon the heat it going to kick up even hotter and I’m certain my tatsoi and mizuna will perish shortly after, leaving my kale exposed and possible targets. Only time will reveal the true value of this tip. For now, I would only suggest a trap plant to those of you who have actively seen these guys your garden.
- Cultivate the Soil ~ from what I understand, this helps to interrupt their reproductive cycle. Lightly cultivating your veggie bed soil about 2 inches deep 1-2x per week helps to kill any eggs laid in the soil. I’ve been doing this around and close to my trap plants and it does seem to be helping 🙂
- Remove Infested Plants ~ Before doing this, spray the heck out of the Bragada Bugs currently on the infested plant to kill them, then carefully remove the plant and any/all dead plant debris. Be sure to keep your soapy water close by… there may be some Bragada Bugs tucked in tight at the base of the plant or in the soil. Then finally, cultivate the soil.
- Remove Host Weeds ~ in and around your veggie garden, especially wild mustard.
Now I’ve seen a short list of chemicals/pesticides being recommended by specialists and entomologists and an even shorter list of organic/OMRI solutions that are quite cost prohibitive ($350+ for one gallon), but I, personally steer clear of these types of solutions (if humanly possible). When addressing pest challenges, I always… ALWAYS, consider my honey bees first. I also have a beautiful colony of celophane bees somewhere on my property that frequently visit my garden and a huge number of beneficials that we’ve fostered over the past few years. Beneficials like, bumblebees, assasin bugs, preying matids, ladybugs, green lacewings and a number of beneficial wasps. Their care and safety is a priority for me.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Bragada Bug or about other possible solutions, please be sure to check out these reputable sources…
Dr. John Palumbo, Associate Research Scientist, Vegetable Crops
University of Arizona, Department of Entomology
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