Blissus leucopterus also known as the true chinch bug is a small North American insect in the order Hemiptera and family Blissidae. It is the most commonly encountered member of the genus Blissus, which are all known as chinch bugs. A closely related species is Blissus insularis, the southern chinch bug.
These bugs tend to gather on sunny open patches of turfgrass. Due to their small size, chinch bugs are hardly noticeable. Therefore, they become problems since they are considered pests that feed on stems of turfgrass.
Blissus leucopterus are approximately 4 millimetres (0.16 in) long when fully developed. The adults' bodies vary in colour from dark red to brown with white wings and red legs. Young nymphs are usually bright red and half the size of adults. A distinguishable feature is the white band found on the nymph's abdomen. This band will be covered with wings and changes colour to black during development.
Blissus leucopterus are native to the Americas. They are found throughout the US, southern Canada, Mexico, and Central Americas.
Blissus leucopterus feed on plants, both wild and cultivated, belonging to the grass family, such as wheat, rye, barley, oats, and corn. They suck the sap out of the growing plants. When the plants ripen or become dry, they travel to other growing plants to feed.
The lifespan of the Blissus leucopterus is a typically less than one year. The eggs of two generations are laid down from spring to summer, when they develop into adults. During the fall, the adults from the first generation die off, while the adults from the second generation retreat from the crops to look for overwinter shelters. The adults overwinter in any type of shelters they can find, including in hedgerows, road sides, bushy fence rows, edges of woodlands, and soybean stubble, under tree barks and bunch grass, and inside field mice nests. Once they emerge from their hibernation, they return to the crop fields to feast and breed before their death.
Blissus leucopterus prefers hot, dry, and sunny conditions, while moist, warm, and humid conditions are detrimental for their population; these conditions promote the growth of fungus which is fatal to them. Other elements that reduce their population is heavy rains. Developing nymphs that are hit with rain become trapped in the soils, killing them. Their natural predators include the big-eye bug (Geocoris bullatis), and the tiny wasp (Eumicrosoma beneficum), which feast and parasitize on them.
- December – March: Blissus leucopterus are in hibernation.
- March – April: Daytime temperature stays above 20 °C for a few hours. The Blissus leucopterus emerge from hibernation and begin mating.
- April – May: The adults fly to fields with small grains growing (such as wheat) and start sucking the sap out of them. They continue to mate while the females begin laying eggs on the lower leaves of plants, or on the roots. They will continue to do so for the next 30 days, laying a total of around 200 eggs.
- June: The nymphs develop for the next 30 days until they mature into adults. They’re wingless, reddish in color, and will progressively become darker with each moult until they’ve reached their adult stage with their wings fully developed. The nymphs also feed on the same growing plant until they start to ripen. This causes the population to seek out other growing crops (such as corn).
- July - October: The population of chinch bugs feast and breed on the new growing plant (such as corn), giving birth to a 2nd generation. They continue to feed on the crops, and the 2nd generation of chinch bugs become fully mature.
- November: The chinch bugs retreat from the crops to look for shelter for overwinter.
The chinch bug, a native to the United States and common in midwestern states, has had a great effect on humans. The chinch bug naturally feeds on wild prairie grasses. As the midwestern states were settled in the nineteenth century and crops of wheat, corn, sorghum and other grains were planted, they adapted well to these new species as habitat and food species. Throughout the 20th century, the chinch bug was a major pest to farmers, as it quickly decimated corn or wheat fields. To deal with this problem, many farmers in the area changed their crops to soybeans, which were not a host to the chinch bug. This led to a huge decrease in the chinch bug population in this area. Today they are mostly a common lawn pest and are commonly treated with pesticides and pest-resistant grasses.
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- Waldbauer, Gilbert, Insights from Insects, What Bad Bugs Can Teach Us. 2005. Prometheus Books, New York, 219-232.
- http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/2000/2503.html[permanent dead link]
- Blissus insularis, southern chinch bug on the University of Florida / Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Featured Creatures website