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Harlequin Cabbage Bug-Another Form Of Stink Bug:

Updated on August 3, 2014

Harlequin Bugs

A small colony of Harlequin Bugs making themselves at home on the only three broccoli plants in the garden.
A small colony of Harlequin Bugs making themselves at home on the only three broccoli plants in the garden.

Harlequin Cabbage Bug-Another form of Stink Bug:

The Harlequin Cabbage bug is the common name of a bug that sucks the juices from Brassica plants and other garden plants. Popular Brassica plants include Cabbage, Broccoli, Kale, Cauliflower and Kol Rabi. These plants all belong to the mustard family.

If you have never seen a Harlequin Cabbage Bug then simply plant a cabbage or other Brassica plant. Before long you will have many of the cute-little-devils. This is what science refers to as a true bug. A true bug goes through three stages of life. The life cycle of the Harlequin Bug begins as an egg. It hatches into a nymph and then develops into an adult. Three life stages – Egg, Nymph, Adult.

How Harlequin Bugs Survive Seasonal Changes:

Here in Sacramento, California, we typically grow cabbage, broccoli and other plants from the Brassica family in the fall and winter. It is not uncommon to see these Harlequin Cabbage Bugs throughout the year. We are zone 8 and zone 9, and as such, it can get rather chilly if not downright cold here. These are hardy bug that overwinter well. In warmer climates, they flourish year round and produce eggs and young on a regular basis. Here, we rarely see young Harlequin Cabbage Bugs (nymphs) during the later part of winter. The life span of a Harlequin Bug is roughly between 50-80 days. This would suggest that the bug winters as an adult without much prospect of hibernation. This also means that for local gardens that little bit of warm weather we experience each February is prime spawning time for these bugs. Never mind that March here is typically wet. These bugs are well protected from torrential rains by the very plants they love to eat. Nothing speaks of early spring mornings like the beads of dew on the cabbage leaves. In fact, cabbage leaves and other Brassica foliage tend to repel water.

This is almost the beginning of August and the Harlequin bugs are rampant, despite the fact that we have few Brassica plants growing in the garden. They seem to prefer the waxy leaves of the struggling broccoli plants. They will investigate and sometime enjoy a meal from chard, but for the most part, they seem to stick to plants from the cabbage or mustard family.

The Lone Harlequin Bug:

Here, A long Harlequin Bug teeters on the edge.  There is no such thing as a long Harlequin bug.
Here, A long Harlequin Bug teeters on the edge. There is no such thing as a long Harlequin bug.

The Damage From These Striking Pests:

For as striking as these bugs are, they are truly pests. They are capable of ruining an entire crop of cabbage or broccoli, etc. by simply sucking the sap from the plants. Plants are much like people. When we are not feeling well, our immune system drops and we fail the thrive. With crops, it is more likely that the plant may simply wither and die.

The eggs of the Harlequin bug look like a double roll of sushi. They are almost laid in perfect rows and usually up to 12 eggs. If you spot Harlequin bugs in your garden, the eggs are easy to find. Simply look on the underside of the leaves of the plant on which you found the bugs. There you will more than likely find the eggs. You can remove the eggs by gently scraping them off the leaf. It is just as simple to remove the portion of leaf they are on as well. Depending on temperature variations the eggs can hatch in as little as 3-4 days or they may take up to 29-33 days to hatch.

Nymph typically take four weeks and sometimes as long as nine weeks to mature before mating and laying eggs. When I first noticed these bugs in the garden, I thought that we had an odd species of ladybug. These were simply nymphs. They are about the size of a full grown lady bug, but their coloration is quite striking. Very distinct coloration of red and black with four very uniform black squares on their back. The nymphs molt up to five times before they become adults and each molting morphs the color and pattern of the nymph into a closer and closer duplicate of the adult patterns. I personally find these bugs to be quite beautiful. I do not delude myself into accepting them for more than the pests that they are. Adults are about ½ -3/4 of an inch long.

Damage From These Pests:

The damage on this leaf is so sever that it is not reversible.  As this leaf dies, the host plant becomes weaker until death takes it too.
The damage on this leaf is so sever that it is not reversible. As this leaf dies, the host plant becomes weaker until death takes it too.

Eggs of The Harlequin Bug:

These eggs look like little rows of sushi.  Notice that there is exactly 12 barrel shaped eggs.  They will hatch in about 4-10 days with the warm weather that we are having here.
These eggs look like little rows of sushi. Notice that there is exactly 12 barrel shaped eggs. They will hatch in about 4-10 days with the warm weather that we are having here.

Close up of Harlequin Bug Eggs

Nymphs emerging from their eggs

I was excited to see this process.
I was excited to see this process.

Controlling The Harlequin Bug:

Controlling the Harlequin Bug:

There is a chemical somewhere that will kill anything but that is not the goal of organic gardening. For smaller gardens, it is fairly simple to hand-pick the bugs and destroy them. This includes hunting for their eggs. The eggs are very easy to spot as they are laid right out in the open. In larger gardens, it may be an on-going process to hand-pick the bugs and eggs. Some farmers have planted small gardens that are designed to attract the bugs and then when the infestation is at its peak the garden is burned. That is a little extreme for me, plus the fire department would be there in a heartbeat.

I would like to express that while I encourage organic methods of pest control, commercial Brassica farms could be entirely wiped out without the use of chemicals to control these pests. This is important, not because I am endorsing pesticides, but because I wish to point out that, in grocery stores, organic food is usually higher in price, than non-organic food. That price reflects that work that it takes to grow presentable vegetables under organic conditions.

Beauty and Devastation:

These are striking bugs to watch and know, but they leave a path of devastation.
These are striking bugs to watch and know, but they leave a path of devastation.

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    • profile image

      Rrrrrandy 16 months ago

      I decided to start squeezing the life out of the population of these bugs, once the summer heat came, and the population exploded. For two days it was as if they had no idea I was going to kill them. Then suddenly on the third day, every single bug that my hand approached dropped in a sometimes successful attempt to flee. Wow! They seem so adaptive to their environment!

    • Deborah Brooks profile image

      Deborah Brooks Langford 3 years ago from Brownsville,TX

      I see that you are so smart.. this is very interesting.. Brooke would love to be in your science class...

      hugs

      Debbie

    • davenmidtown profile image
      Author

      David Stillwell 5 years ago from Sacramento, California

      JJVerna: They are easily picked off and destroyed. Radish leaves will tolorate gentle combing for these bugs... If you take care of these pests before you plant broccoli... your broccoli will be fine. When having issues with these specific bugs, in other crops... plant a single cabbage, broccoli or chard plant and they will gravitate to that plant. They really do prefer cabbage/broccoli or mustard over everything else. Once they have migrated to the test plant... destroy them and the plant. Replant as needed.

    • profile image

      JJVERNA 5 years ago

      I hate you Harley Stink Bugs!!! They decimated my radishes, then my nasturtiums...what's next? I did so want to plant some broccoli for the fall...but fear the H Stink Bugs will get that too.

    • homesteadbound profile image

      Cindy Murdoch 5 years ago from Texas

      This is a great hub that covers so many aspects of the cabbage bug. And the photos were wonderful. You did an excellent job of addressing organic control.

    • ausis profile image

      ausis 5 years ago from Australia

      Hmm maybe that's what kept eating my 100 or so broccoli and cauliflower net time I put them in I will have to keep a better eye on them. Let alone that fact that is if the pesky rats don't get them first.

    • davenmidtown profile image
      Author

      David Stillwell 6 years ago from Sacramento, California

      The bait garden or plant... either... work well for these bugs. They are very specialized in their work. I have counted as many as 20 on a single broccoli plant and none at all on the surrounding plants that were not in the mustard family. I have seen them attempt to eat chard but they vacate the plant fairly quickly. Removing the eggs is a fairly easy to control the pest.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 6 years ago from United States

      What fantastic pictures! I've never used a bait plant or garden--is that what they're called? I usually follow a handpicking and forest relocation program. (:

    • davenmidtown profile image
      Author

      David Stillwell 6 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Thank you. I enjoyed writing this hub.

    • johncimble profile image

      johncimble 6 years ago from Bangkok

      great hub!! vote up for you :)

    • profile image

      Bangla News 6 years ago

      Interesting!!!! thanks for the article.

    • davenmidtown profile image
      Author

      David Stillwell 6 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Thank you both for the complements. I try to write useful information about topics that other people may enjoy.

    • J.S.Matthew profile image

      JS Matthew 6 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Congratulations on being selected for Hub of the Day!

      This is very interesting and well-researched! Those pictures are awesome! You are so lucky to capture this. Great Job! Voting Up and sharing!

      JSMatthew~

    • RoughOutline profile image

      RoughOutline 6 years ago from England, UK

      I know a lot of people who grow veg and this hub will be great help to them.

    • davenmidtown profile image
      Author

      David Stillwell 6 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Thank you Night Magic..... maybe use neem oil??? it is at least organic.

    • Night Magic profile image

      Night Magic 6 years ago from Canada

      Thanks for the info Dave. The pictures are great. At least now I know what I'm looking for. I definitely don't have time to pick them off or remove the leaves so I will have to use chemicals.

    • davenmidtown profile image
      Author

      David Stillwell 6 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Thank you RD for your complements.

    • registerdomains profile image

      registerdomains 6 years ago from India

      Awesome photographs. Dave, I always love your hubs. Great stuff. Keep it up.

    • davenmidtown profile image
      Author

      David Stillwell 6 years ago from Sacramento, California

      @ Jseven: In an organic garden they pretty much do live in harmony. If the gardener takes the steps to control the population so that they do not become are thriving hoard. We have a small plot that has three left over broccoli plants in it along with several artichokes and several eggplants. The HCB have all located themselves on the three broccoli plants. They do not bother either the artichokes or the eggplants, which are both covered in fruit.

      @Cardisa: They are stink bugs... but they only stink when they are threatened. Stink bugs are a large family of bugs and come in many different kinds, shapes, and colors.

    • Cardisa profile image

      Carolee Samuda 6 years ago from Jamaica

      Cute little bugs aren't they, but very destructive!

      Nice hub with lots of useful info, you did mention that they are a kind of stinky bug? Yew! I hate stinky bugs!

    • profile image

      hazelbrown 6 years ago

      awesome hub! congrats on hub of the day!

    • jseven profile image

      jseven 6 years ago from Michigan

      Why can't they live in harmony with us and have their own cabbage patch? Lol~ Great hub with lots of info.

    • davenmidtown profile image
      Author

      David Stillwell 6 years ago from Sacramento, California

      let me know what you find. I am always curious to see what bugs do.

    • WannaB Writer profile image

      Barbara Radisavljevic 6 years ago from Templeton, CA

      Dave, it might be earwigs, since we have them in abundance on this property. I'll take a look next time I visit my chard.

    • davenmidtown profile image
      Author

      David Stillwell 6 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Thank you. I am glad people are liking this hub.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 6 years ago from North Carolina

      Useful info and interesting. Well written. Good luck in the fan fave contest this week.

    • davenmidtown profile image
      Author

      David Stillwell 6 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Thank you for the complements. The stink bugs come in a variety of shapes and colors. I was attracted to these primarily because I thought the nymph were an odd form of ladybug. Chard can be troublesome. It may be the heat that is/was causing the chard to turn brown. It may also be something like earwigs that are attacking the base of the leaves. Look at the spot where the old leaves touch the new leaves at the base. There may be a culprit hiding there.

    • WannaB Writer profile image

      Barbara Radisavljevic 6 years ago from Templeton, CA

      We have acreage that is full of wild mustard, but it always seems very healthy. Something is causing many chard leaves to turn brown, though, but I've never seen any bugs on the plants. I assumed maybe our heat wave got to the plants. The newer growth is doing better. At least I now know what these bugs are, though I don't think I see this color very often. I see mostly squash bugs that look similar, but are green. Congrats on being a contest Fan Fav this week.

    • davenmidtown profile image
      Author

      David Stillwell 6 years ago from Sacramento, California

      They can be trouble in a commercial setting. They are very easily controlled in smaller gardens. While they do damage plants, I enjoy their presence. They have not affected crop production in my garden and I think the local tree frogs enjoy them. I seem to see more frogs about the garden when the harlequin bugs are prevalent.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

      Yikes! What a troublesome pest! Your photos are amazing though. Great Hub, and I appreciate your note about organic pest control, too!

    • profile image

      fashion 6 years ago

      This is a beautiful hub.Thanks for this info article.

    • davenmidtown profile image
      Author

      David Stillwell 6 years ago from Sacramento, California

      I think they are pretty to look at. They do a lot of damage. The nymphs look a great deal like lady bugs. They are about that size. the adults are quite a bit larger then lady bugs. Stink bugs are a very large family of bugs and they come in many different shapes, sizes and colors.

    • Robin profile image

      Robin Edmondson 6 years ago from San Francisco

      I would have been confused at first to see them; they do look a bit like ladybugs which are good for the garden. If we ever grow a mustard-family plant, I will keep an eye out for these little devils!