spined soldier bug., Podisus maculiventris

Spined Soldier Bug: Evil looking Good Guy

As a general rule stink bugs are harmful players in the vegetable garden. Because of this fact, it’s all too easy to mistakenly kill one of the gardener’s greatest allies The spined soldier bug, Podisus maculiventris, though a stink bug, is beneficial, very beneficial. This little bug eats many garden pests, including:

  • the Colorado potato beetle
  • cabbage loopers
  • army worms
  • cutworms
  • flea beetles
  • corn ear worms and…
  • corn borers

The soldier bug transmits no diseases in the garden and does no harm, yet it eats around 100 kinds of pests.

Though technically a stink bug, the spined soldier bug is beneficial.

Most stink bugs are pests but not this one!

Cornell University on  the spined soldier bug as biological pest control

The link above mentions that a single spined solder bug can eat 100 army worms in a single season. These bugs are renowned for sneaking up on their prey and tackling them, even if they are larger than themselves. The soldier bug penetrates the body of its prey with it’s snout and injects it with a toxin, paralyzing it. Then it sucks out the life juices of the other insect. That’s what they do. Apart from breeding and making more soldier bugs, the spined soldier bug spends all its time hunting garden pests and eating them.

You might ask…

How can I get spined soldier bugs in my garden?

If you live in North America, chances are you don’t need to do anything to get them in your garden. Either they are there, or they will come. This bug is very widespread and they’re not just found in gardens. I find them in trees, shrubs and brush. They are almost always to be found in our mulberry tree. We also frequently find them in our beans and tomatoes. It’s probably more important to learn to recognize the spined soldier bug and avoid killing it. I used to assume that these were just a harder shelled version of squash or vegetable bug and almost by reflex I’d kill them. I didn’t realize I was harming my garden.

Green Vegetable Bug
The green vegetable bug is a harmful stink bug, often found in the garden.

This is a squash bug and the spined soldier bug are often confused. Kill this one, not the soldier bug.

squash bug
This is a squash bug and the spined soldier bug are often confused. Kill this one, not the soldier bug.

Never fail at identifying the SPINED soldier bug. Look at the shoulders. They’re POINTY.

Another way to help them is NOT to use pesticides because nine times out of ten pesticide hurts beneficials more than the pests. Predatory insects, like this one, reproduce more slowly than the pests. Their population needs time to grow yet when one uses pesticide, both the pests and the beneficials are killed. The pests rebound more quickly.

Related article: Insecticides Favor Pests

Important detail about spined soldier bugs: their babies look quite different than adults.

instar spined soldier bug, baby spined soldier bug
Immature spined soldier bugs look like this. Don’t kill them. They’re already eating pests.
spined soldier bug on tomato
Only the spined soldier bug has POINTY shoulders.

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