Squash bugs are an emerging problem in Wisconsin. In recent years, these insects have become more prevalent, causing damage to vine crops in commercial fields and home gardens alike. The key to management is early detection. Squash bugs feed on all vine crops, but pumpkins and squash are the preferred hosts with gourds and melons favored next.
Adults are about ½ -3/4-inch long, brownish-black, flat, shield-shaped bugs. They are sometimes mistaken for stink bugs. Adults congregate and emit a strong odor when crushed. Immature squash bugs initially have red heads and legs with whitish-green bodies, but later have black heads and legs with gray bodies. Eggs are 1/16-inch, reddish orange to brown-colored and are laid in clusters on the undersides of leaves along the center vein.
Symptoms and effects
Squash bugs are a major pest of squash and pumpkins. Nymphs and adults feed on plant juices and release toxins into leaves. Feeding causes wilting, and leaves become dry and brown or black along the edges. This wilting may appear similar to bacterial wilt, but bacterial wilt is spread by the cucumber beetle. Early symptoms of infestation include yellow spotting on the leaves. Later in the season, adults will also feed on fruit, which can cease development and begin to rot. Young plants are more susceptible to severe damage.
Unmated adults overwinter in Wisconsin in protected areas. Eggs are laid in late June and early July when cucurbit vines begin to develop. Eggs hatch in about 10 days. The nymphal stage lasts 4-6 weeks. Nymphs undergo 5 molts before reaching maturity. Adults appear in late July and early August. There is one generation per year. The female lays eggs over an extended period of time, and all life stages may appear at once on the plant.
Because they are protected by the lower surfaces of leaves, squash bugs may be difficult to control. Although it is unlikely to find large populations of the bugs early in the season, growers should check their transplants or new seedlings for the presence of adults. A degree day model can be used to predict the development of squash bugs in squash. Using a base temperature of 58°F, eggs will appear at 193 DD and nymphs will emerge at 554 DD. The threshold for treatment is one egg mass per plant during flowering. Inspect the lower leaf surface for squash bug eggs.
Destroy crop residues in the fall to reduce the number of overwintering adults. Crop rotation will also reduce the incidence of infestation. Trellised plants are less susceptible to squash bug infestations. Young nymphs are the most susceptible to control practices, while adults are more difficult to control. In smaller plantings, adults can be congregated by placing boards on the ground near the plants as a hiding place. The squash bugs will aggregate at night under the boards, which can then be destroyed each morning.
It is most effective to spray as the eggs are hatching, as nymphs are easiest to control. In the seedling stage, treat if wilting and squash bugs are evident. Belay® can be used as an at-planting control, and Pounce® or other permethrin products can be effective against adults.
Refer to the UW-Extension publication Commercial Vegetable Production in Wisconsin (A3422) for a list of registered insecticides and management recommendations.
UW-Extension fact sheets
- Commercial Vegetable Production in Wisconsin (A3422)
- Biological Control of Insects and Mites (A3842)
- Biological Control of Greenhouse Pests (NCR58)
- Insect Pest Management for Greenhouses (A3744)
- Managing Insects in the Home Vegetable Garden (A2088)
- Squash bug and squash vine borer: organic controls – ATTRA publication