Do potato bug bite?
Let’s be honest, these things are not cute. In fact, they have a variety of names that reflect just how horrible and disgusting potato bugs are. But just because they look terrifying doesn’t mean they are anything to be afraid of.
In this article, I want to hit on a few basic facts and then give you the important information you need. I’ll tell you how to spot a potato bug, where to finds them, and what to do when you encounter one. I will also answer the age-old question: are potato bugs poisonous or bdangerous?
How to handle potato bugs, how to prevent them and how to get rid of them will also be included while explaining the potato bug’s purpose and why you might think twice before breaking out the pesticides.
So keep reading.....
What Are Potato Bugs?
The potato bug is also known as the Jerusalem cricket (even though it is not a cricket and isn’t from Jerusalem). It is also called the child’s face, skunk bug, skull insect, old bald-headed man, devil’s spawn and earth baby.
They are a member of the Stenopelmatidae family and are different from the Colorado potato beetle. The name potato bug is very misleading as they are not bugs but insects and have no particular fondness for potatoes.
They are also not crickets, but more closely related to grasshoppers and have no logical connection to Jerusalem. They do not chirp or rub their legs together but hiss and drum on their abdomens to make noise and attract mates.
What Do They Look Like?
Potato bugs are around two inches long with black and orange banded bodies that look like engorged wasps.
They have a red, human like heads and antennas that look like long pieces of thread. The creep factor is not helped when the potato bug’s massive head and small black eyes that look childlike.
They have no wings and instead hobble around awkwardly on translucent, spider like legs and have been known to hop when frightened.
They also get mistaken for giant velvet ants sometimes. Basically, the potato bug is the Frankenstein’s monster of the insect world.
What Do They Eat?
Potato bugs mainly eat organic material like plants, crops, roots, and tubers. Unlike the name suggests, they have no preference for potatoes but love any underground organic material.
They eat almost any fruits or vegetables by sucking on the plant’s juices from the undersides of leaves and stems which can cause stunted growth in plants.
This effect on the plants is a result of the potato bug’s toxin being transferred to the plants in its saliva.
When the potato bug does not have access to organic material that is dead or decaying it is more likely to go after the healthier plants like the ones in your garden.
If food is exceptionally scarce potato bugs will eat other insects and even other potato bugs alive or dead.
Where Do They Live?
Potato bugs are primarily found in the Western United States and parts of Mexico. They are nocturnal insects which spend most of their time underground.
Potato bugs have very strong jaws and legs so they can easily burrow into the soil and prefer moist conditions with a lot of organic material.
One of their favorite spots in the garden and flower beds once the plants have started to decay.
It is likely to spot them in gardens when tilling soil for planting in winter and spring. As the soil gets moved around, it disturbs the bugs and brings them to the surface. Just check before planting for the bugs and remove them.
Do potato bug bite?
A potato bug will do everything it can to avoid you, but if you persist and threaten them, you can expect a bite. They have incredibly powerful jaws and teeth so if they bite you, you’ll know it. They can also gnaw on you if you don’t seem to be getting the picture.
This bite, while painful, does not need treatment and should only hurt for a few minutes. To avoid getting bit, you should keep an eye out when gardening and always wear a good pair of gloves just in case.
Are Potato Bugs Poisonous?
While the potato bug does have toxin-laced saliva that destroys plants, it is not dangerous to humans. They are not poisonous in any way, and the worst you will get from these guys is a painful bite when threatened.
Potato bugs do emit a foul smell when threatened which deters predators but with these guys, the only thing you need to worry about is its jaws.
Are They Aggressive?
Potato bugs are a classic example of them being more afraid of us than we are of them. They prefer being underground anyway but will shy away from humans if spotted.
Though they might look tough, potato bugs will only become aggressive when threatened.
Most of the time potato bugs will try to get away from you as quickly as possible and will even leap to get away. A sign that you are getting on their bad side is kicking out of their back legs much like a donkey does.
They will raise these back legs up over their body to appear bigger. Others times they will roll onto their back and force their legs into the air. Also, listen for hissing noises as it is telling you to back off..
Are They Pests?
Potato bugs may not look it, but they are actually beneficial to your garden. They are rarely found in large numbers and serve as a way to keep your soil healthy. Because the potato bug’s food of choice is decaying plant life is will burrow into your garden and eat away all the dead roots and any other material left behind from your previous garden.
The burrowing aerates the soil and allows for it to be more porous. They also eat smaller insects that could be harmful to your plants.
In a way, the potato bug provides pest control for you and your garden.
Will They Infest My Home?
The vast majority of the time potato bugs will be outside where their food source is. Because of their mating cycle, there will never be swarms of them around, but you can find a couple dozen in the garden when plants have started to decay.
They are drawn to a food source so as the planting season ends you will have more and more of them heading for your garden.
Because they spend most of their time underground, it is important to look for signs that the potato bugs have gone from a helpful garden aid to an infestation.
These signs include damage to the garden or flowerbed, infested plants, hissing and scratching sounds coming from the garden, and curling or stunted plants.
The potato bug will rarely be seen indoors as it prefers moist, dark places. But when it is extremely hot and dry outside, they may make their way inside. They offer no direct threat and will not do any damage to the home.
What Do I Do If I See One?
If there is one in your home or a small amount in your garden, then I recommend wearing a thick pair of gloves and just picking them up and moving them elsewhere.
For larger infestations, you can spray chemicals or introduce their natural predators like ladybugs, stinkbugs, and spined soldier bugs.
How To I Prevent Them?
It can be beneficial to gardens to have potato bugs, but if the numbers are getting out of control, there are some things you can do.
In gardens, it is easy to prevent them by introducing their natural predators into the garden (ladybugs, stinkbugs, and spined soldier bugs), but you face possible damage from these insects depending on where you are planting.
You should always do some research to see if these insects are common where you live and if it is okay to introduce them into the local ecosystem. When in doubt contact a professional.
To keep potato bugs out of your home make sure to seal up areas they can wander into. This includes large gaps in the home’s siding, open doors, and windows. It is also important to keep your home dry as moisture attracts them.
Keep mulch a few inches away from the foundation of your home, so the moisture doesn’t spread into the house.
You should also clean up any rocks, woodpiles, and debris from your lawn as this promotes hiding spots for potato bugs.
If you insist on having sprinklers on then they should be running in the morning so around the house can dry out during the day. Otherwise, avoid sprinkler or access watering of your lawn.
Getting Rid Of Potato Bugs - How to Kill Colorado Potato Beetles
Potato bugs do not need to be removed, but if you choose to do so, you have a few options. Introduction of natural predators as I mentioned above can be a more “organic” option but you must consider the local ecosystem and the effects these new species will have on your garden and home.
Look for eco-friendly techniques and try those first before resorting to chemicals or bringing in other insects. This is not only better for the environment, but is less likely to have adverse effects on your home and garden.
In small amounts, the potato bug can be very beneficial to gardens and should be left alone. They pose no threat to humans unless they are threatened, but will do everything they can to avoid you.
Despite their look, these insects just want to be left in peace.
So relax, get a good pair of gardening gloves, and enjoy the free help!
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Lindsey Hyland grew up in Arizona where she attended University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture. She has supplemented her formal education by working on various organic farms, including spending a semester abroad in India.
Growing and/or raising just about anything gets her excited. She is especially passionate about environmental justice and low-tech, sustainable ways to better run small-scale farms and homesteads. Lindsey started Urban Organic Yield to discuss gardening tips and tactics.