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This cute little critter posed for a few short seconds at the tip of a Salvia leaf. It’s one of the most hated crop pests in the US, where it causes huge damage to a wide variety of crops. It’s a tarnished plant bug, Lygus lineolaris.

Although it is thought of as a serious pest (so much so that it’s hard to find web pages that don’t go to great lengths describing its damage) I have only seen a few of them in this garden. Unlike farmers with crops to lose, I welcome them. If they reproduce too fast, I am quite certain somebody will come along to eat them. They seem to be native to North America.

Like all true bugs, these have “half-wings” with tough, leathery parts in front that cover the filmy flying wings folded underneath. They also have sucking mouthparts, in this case to drink the sap of plants.

Why are they such agro pests? Not only do they attack hundreds of valuable crops, they also produce several generations every year. A successful strategy for sure, but one that leads the humans to go to great lengths to try to eliminate them. Sadly, that usually means spreading huge amounts of deadly chemicals into the environment. No wonder the butterflies and bees are disappearing.

This lemon balm clump has just plain exploded, with warm weather and plenty of water helping it along.

During the winter it was pruned down nearly to the ground – an action I took only because the owner of the property might object to lots of dead, standing stems. Dead stems are sometimes problematic – some eco-gardeners (including me!) would like to leave them in place to decay naturally and provide lots of interesting micro-habitats. But when you don’t actually own the land, you sometimes have to compromise.

Among the leaves was this visitor, a greyish shield bug in the family Acanthosomatidae of the order Hemiptera (true bugs). My best guess is that it’s in the genus Elasmucha, but there are several other related genera to which it might belong. UPDATE: It is almost certainly Euschistus conspersus, the conspersus stink bug, closely related to Elasmucha.

Like all true bugs, shield bugs have sucking mouth parts that resemble a syringe. Some true bugs use their mouth parts to attack other insects and drain them of their internal juicy goodness, leaving behind an empty shell that might be mistaken for a cast-off exoskeleton. Others, like this shield bug, use them to suck the juices out of plants.

Their forewings are divided into a hard, leathery front part and a filmy, veined rear part, placing them in the suborder Heteroptera. The other suborder, Homoptera, contains creatures like aphids, cicadas, and planthoppers.

You can read more about the Acanthosomatidae in the Wikipedia article.