The hairy chinch bug (Blissus leucopterus hirtus) is a significant and economically important pest of turf grasses, especially in the northern and northeastern part of the United States. Their host plants are: most cool-season turfgrasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass (without endophytes), bentgrasses, tall and fine fescues (without endophytes), and crabgrass. In North America, several other chinch bugs can also be found harming turf grasses: the southern chinch bug (B. insularis), the common chinch bug (B. leucopterus leucopterus), and the western chinch bug, B. occiduus. These chinch bugs have overlapping distributions and hosts and can be found in the same areas. At both the adult and the nymph phase, chinch bugs feed on the stems, stolons and crowns of grasses with piercing and sucking mouthparts, draining plant juices so that the blades do not receive the water and nutrition they need. The affected areas look like they have been damaged by drought conditions. Damage usually occurs in mid-summer, July-August, when the chinch bugs are actively feeding. The hairy chinch bug also can inject a toxin into the grasses that leads to discoloration, wilting and death.
The hairy chinch bug can live in dense population numbers, up to several hundred per square foot. Nymphs are about 1mm, with a bright red and black pattern, and as they molt they get subsequently darker and blacker in color. Adults are black and white, about 3-4mm long. Two generations usually occur in a season, sometimes three in years with long summer. Hairy chinch bugs overwinter as adults.
Chinch bugs are traditionally treated with pesticides, but integrated pest management plans encourage alternative treatments to reduce pesticide usage and incidence of resistance in chinch bugs. Other control methods include encouraging natural predators, for example the big-eyed bug, ants, predatory earwigs, pirate bugs, and spiders. Much research has gone into developing resistant strains of grasses enriched with endophyte, which are beneficial fungi living in the plant cells, although this is of questionable effectiveness. Removing thatch (masses of old dried grass and roots) from the lawn eliminates overwintering sites so may prevent future outbreaks.
To detect chinch bugs in your lawn, you can use a coffee can that has been opened on both sides. Hammer the can about half-way down into the turfed area, and fill it almost full with water. An infestation can be detected if chinch bugs and nymphs float to the top of the can within about 10 minutes.
(Heller 2007; Turfwiki 2008; Leonard 1966; Anderson et al. 2006, 2006; Eikhoff et al 2004)
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