by Sandy Swegel
This week I learned from one of our readers (Thanks Teresa) about a “beneficial” bug I didn’t know about before. I thought these armored looking true bugs I saw were all villainous stinky bugs, but in fact, there is a look-alike bug, the “Spined soldier bug,” that is a true bug superhero to vegetable gardeners. The spined soldier bug eats the young of two of the most damaging villains in our gardens: the Mexican bean beetle and the Colorado potato beetle. It also eats the eggs of its look-a-like Brown marmorated stink bug. If you are an organic gardener who picks off bad bugs to drop them in a bucket of soapy water or just squashes them, you need to learn how to tell the difference between the Spined Soldier Bug and its apparent evil twin the Brown marmorated stink bug. One protects your vegetables and the other eats them. It’s a true fairy tale of good and evil (at least from the vegetable’s point of view.)
It’s not very obvious how to tell the two bugs apart, but the biggest clue is the sharp spiny shoulders of the Spined soldier bug…sort of like it’s little superhero cape. Check out the photo for differences in markings on the abdomen. There’s also anecdotal evidence that the spined soldier bug is more likely to be alone and not to run away frightened by you. He is a superhero after all. Some say the Brown marmorated stink bugs are quicker to scurry away and hide.
Anytime we decide to kill one kind of creature in our garden, we risk doing more damage than good through our altruistic ignorance. We mean well if we go around killing stink bugs, but we need to really know what we are doing or we’ll accidentally kill the best bug allies we have. My rule for pulling weeds is always, “Don’t pull anything unless you know its name.” My rule for killing bugs is now the same, “Don’t kill anything unless you know its name for sure!” No guessing.