Minute pirate bug
Minute pirate bug
I was wandering about the yard this past weekend enjoying the final days of our warm, but wet fall weather. As I picked ripened berries in the raspberry patch, I felt a sharp prick on my arm. And then another. And a minute later, another. Then, memories of this time last fall flooded my mind - and before I even looked down at my arm, I knew that minute pirate bugs were back!

You may have also experienced a sharp poke here or a prick there on your body while outdoors in recent weeks. These annoying pokes feel like a “pin prick” and are painful enough to startle even the most hardened outdoorsmen and women. Even more startling is that they come from a very tiny insect called the minute pirate bug.

Pirate bugs, also known as Orius insidiosus, are actually very good garden bugs. They are abundant on flowers and foliage in our gardens and landscapes throughout the growing season. While there are more than 70 species of Orius across the globe, several species are reared as predatory insects to control pests in greenhouse production. These voracious beneficial bugs normally prowl garden plants in search of aphids, thrips, mites, and other soft-bodied insects along with their eggs and larvae.

During the growing season, favorable weather ensures an ample food supply and cover for pirate bugs in our gardens, landscapes, and surrounding areas. As many plants decline this time of year and lose their flowers and leaves, the pirate bugs move on looking for new prey and places to rest over the winter months. Hence – this is when they encounter us and make their presence known!

What makes a pirate bug pack such a punch? Pirate bugs have a proboscis that pierces into an insect and sucks out its juices. These curious critters roam the earth poking and prodding anything and everything until they find something suitable to eat. If they happen to land on you, you just might get poked too. But don’t worry, humans are not on a pirate bug’s menu.

Some insects like mosquitoes inject their saliva under our skin when they bite causing inflammation and itching. Pirate bugs do not inject anything into our skin, nor do they withdraw fluids or blood when they poke. They simply are looking for food. The pirate bug poke may leave some sensitive folks with small red bumps, while for others, there are no visible signs.

So what can you do? Honestly, not much. Insect repellents are not effective in deterring pirate bugs from landing on and poking people. Due to their small size, rather plentiful numbers, and beneficial insect status, insecticides are not recommended for their control. The good news is - while pirate bugs are plentiful this time of year, they will soon begin looking for places to overwinter as the temperature drops over the next week.

For additional information, please contact the Putnam County Extension office at 419-523-6294, by email at Scheckelhoff.11@osu.edu or stop in at 1206 East Second Street in Ottawa. You can also find us on Facebook by searching for OSU Extension Putnam County.