Harlequin (Cabbage) Bugs

One of the more conspicuous insects around the Nature Center is the Harlequin (Cabbage) Bug, Murgantia histrionica (Hahn), a handsome black bug with orange-red markings. (The common field guides show considerable color differences.)

The Harlequin Bug is a member of the insect order HETEROPTERA. Insects in this order have dissimilar wings - the front wings have thick bases and membranous tips while the hind pair are membranous only. At rest, the front pair of wings overlap and the insect's back appears to be marked with a prominent "X". The Harlequin Bug belongs to the family PENTATOMIDAE, also known as the stink bug family because its members can, when sufficiently disturbed, emit a strong offensive odor.

The small barrel-shaped eggs are generally laid in rows. A thin black-colored line circles the top and bottom of each barrel like a hoop and a small black dot is positioned on the middle of the barrel. Look for the eggs attached to the leaves and pods on the Bladderpod, one of the insect's main food plants.

Young insects develop in a series of stages called "instars". The skin of an insect is actually an external skeleton - it becomes hard and incapable of expanding. In order to grow the immature insect or "nymph" sheds its skin at appropriate intervals. The new skin, initially very soft, is capable of expansion. Young Harlequin Bugs are black with orangish markings but lack wings. Changes take place with each molt until, eventually, a mature insect - in this case, one with wings - emerges. No further growth takes place.

These distinctive insects feed on plant juices. At the Center, they can be found on Bladderpod most of the year, moving to Mustard as the population expands in the summer. They will feed on a number of other plants and can become garden pests.

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Ron Lyons (volunteer 1990-1999)
Chula Vista Nature Center, 1000 Gunpowder Point Drive, Chula Vista, CA 91910-1201