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Chinch Bug FAQs

June 3, 2014

Now that summer is here, so are the pests that emerge during hot, humid weather. One of the most notorious summer pests in South Florida is the southern chinch bug. Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions for chinch bugs.

What do chinch bugs look like?

Adult chinch bugs have a black body with wings that fold flat on their backs. These wings are mostly shiny white with a little bit of black in the middle of the outer edge of each wing, giving the appearance of an ‘X’ on their backs. Their wings can be long or short, and lawn infestations often contain both. Populations with a lot of long-winged adults may be overcrowded and in the process of spreading into a neighboring yard.

How do chinch bugs damage St. Augustine grass?

Nymphs and adults feed on the phloem tissue within a leaf sheath. Some varieties of St. Augustine grass may be less susceptible to chinch bug feeding because their cell walls are thicker and physically prevent the insect’s piercing and sucking mouth parts from reaching the phloem tissue. Symptoms of infested grass include the yellowing of the lowest or oldest leaf blade, reduced grass growth, no response to increased irrigation, browning of leaf blades in patches, and grass death.

When is damage most likely to occur?

Damage is most likely to occur when the grass is already under some kind of stress, such as drought. Healthy grass can tolerate more pests feeding on it before showing damage. Damage is often worse in the summer if populations have increased to overwhelm the plant’s natural defenses.

How do they get into different lawns?

Chinch bugs can be transported on new sod or plugs, walk or fly from a neighbor’s yard. Mowers cannot transport chinch bugs from one site to another because the chinch bugs don’t get on the grass blades.

How do I prevent nearby chinch bug infestations from getting into my lawn?

If there’s flexibility within the homeowner’s association, installing a less susceptible St. Augustine grass cultivar or switching to a different turf grass species or ground cover can help to prevent nearby chinch bug infestations from settling in on your lawn. Certain insecticides are effective for use against chinch bugs and can be used as a preventative measure.

Are the bugs attracted to drought-stressed grass?

No, chinch bugs are not typically attracted to drought-stressed grass. These bugs are fluid or phloem- feeding insects, so if a plant is low on water and nutrient transport, then it may not be as good a food source. It is more likely that chinch bug feeding can make the grass look like it is drought-stressed. Only monitoring the area will tell you the real answer.

Does soapy water kill chinch bugs?

Yes, soapy water does kill chinch bugs, but if applied at too high a concentration, it may damage the grass. Because soaps do not have any residual actions, repeated applications will be necessary. Using a soap solution can also get expensive when compared to a commercial insecticide.

Will bagging my grass clippings after mowing suppress chinch bugs?

No, bagging your grass clippings will not suppress chinch bugs. Mowing low enough to catch and collect “infested clippings” would probably scalp or kill the grass. Leaving clippings on the lawn after mowing is the best management practice so that the organic matter and nutrients can be returned to the soil.

How does applying a nitrogen fertilizer affect chinch bugs?

In general, the more nitrogen that is applied to a host plant, the faster the insects will develop on it and thus more of the insects will survive, and females will produce more eggs. This leads to populations getting bigger faster. However, on the flip side of the argument, fertilizer often makes turf grass stronger and healthier, which will make it more resistant to pest related damage. To make sure you are making the best decision for your lawn, contact one of our professionals for a free consultation.

Are there any natural enemies that help?

Yes, there are natural enemies that can help you in your fight against chinch bugs! In lawns that are treated less often with pesticides, predators such as spiders and egg parasites help keep chinch bug populations suppressed. Lawns that are frequently treated with insecticides usually have fewer natural enemies present. However, commercial insecticides typically have a residual that will keep chinch bug populations at bay.

Still have a question about chinch bugs in Florida? Contact us today and we’ll be happy to help!


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