Sacramento Digs Gardening logo
Sacramento Digs Gardening Article
Your resource for Sacramento-area gardening news, tips and events

Articles Recipe Index Keyword Index Calendar Twitter Facebook Instagram About Us Contact Us

Harlequin bugs are no laughing matter

These harlequin bugs are on an Asian pear at the Fremont Community Garden in midtown Sacramento. These are mostly nymphs, An adult is next to the stem. (Photo: Debbie Arrington)

This stink bug cousin loves mustard, cabbage, kale and fruit

These harlequins aren’t funny. In fact, they’re real stinkers.

This month, they’ve invaded Sacramento gardens with a vengeance. They’re looking for cozy spots to spend the winter. In the meantime, they’ll chow down.

With their distinctive and colorful markings, harlequin bugs are easy (and alarming) to spot. The young ones tend to hang out in clusters or large groups.

It’s those spots that give harlequins their nickname. A member of the stink bug family, Murgantia histrionica are shiny black with orange, yellow or red markings. Adults are about 3/8 inch long.

The nymphs, or immature bugs, are particularly colorful. They look almost like mutated lady bugs, but in reverse, with red or orange dots on a black background. The nymphs go through several stages, molting four or five times before reaching their adult size and coloring. While young, they can’t fly.

Meanwhile, they eat. Like other stink bugs, they plunge their feeding tubes into fruit or vegetables, and suck out the juices. Besides deforming the fruit, the enzymes they leave behind makes it inedible. They also feed on leafy greens, causing white blotches where they ate. Heavy infestations will kill plants.

This time of year, they’re hunting for nesting areas. Harlequins love cabbages, mustard and kale. They prefer to lay their eggs on cole crops such as those members of the cabbage family. If they can find an old cabbage or mustard plant to hang out in all winter, they’re in harlequin heaven.

Also like other stink bugs, harlequins seem immune to most pesticides. The best control is hand-picking the nymphs off plants and squishing them (with gloves – they do stink). Or knock them into a bucket with soapy water; they can’t swim.

UC Cooperative Extension master gardeners also recommend destroying old cabbages, mustards and other potential host plants so the harlequins don’t have a place to hang out. Also clean up weedy spots near fruit trees or garden areas. Those weeds may shelter harlequins.

For more information:


0 comments have been posted.

Newsletter Subscription

Sacramento Digs Gardening to your inbox.

Taste Spring! E-cookbook


Find our spring recipes here!

Local News

Ad for California Local

Thanks to our sponsor!

Summer Strong ad for

Dig In: Garden Checklist for week of April 7

The warm wave coming this week will shift weeds into overdrive. Get to work!

* Weed, weed, weed! Whack them before they flower.

* Mulch around plants to conserve moisture and control weeds.

* Smell orange blossoms? Feed citrus trees with a low dose of balanced fertilizer (such as 10-10-10) during bloom to help set fruit. Keep an eye out for ants.

* Apply slow-release fertilizer to the lawn.

* Thoroughly clean debris from the bottom of outdoor ponds or fountains.

* Spring brings a flush of rapid growth, and that means your garden is really hungry. Feed shrubs and trees with a slow-release fertilizer. Or mulch with a 1-inch layer of compost.

* Azaleas and camellias looking a little yellow? If leaves are turning yellow between the veins, give them a boost with chelated iron.

* Trim dead flowers but not leaves from spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. Those leaves gather energy to create next year's flowers. Also, give the bulbs a fertilizer boost after bloom.

* Pinch chrysanthemums back to 12 inches for fall flowers. Cut old stems to the ground.

* From seed, plant beans, beets, cantaloupes, carrots, corn, cucumbers, melons, radishes and squash. Plant onion sets.

* In the flower garden, plant seeds for asters, cosmos, celosia, marigolds, salvia, sunflowers and zinnias. Transplant petunias, zinnias, geraniums and other summer bloomers.

* Plant perennials and dahlia tubers for summer bloom. April is about the last chance to plant summer bulbs, such as gladiolus and tuberous begonias.

* Transplant lettuce and cabbage seedlings.

Taste Summer! E-cookbook


Find our summer recipes here!

Taste Fall! E-cookbook

Muffins and pumpkin

Find our fall recipes here!

Taste Winter! E-cookbook

Lemon coconut pancakes

Find our winter recipes here!