Insects belonging to the Corediae family got their common name, leaffooted bug (sometimes written as leaf-footed) because of the widenened area on their back legs. In Florida we have several different types including multiple genera. Leaffooted bugs share the same Order as other True Bugs such as milkweed assassin bugs, milkweed bugs, kissing bugs, etc. The Coreidae family is the Leaffooted Bug family.
The Eastern Leaffooted bug, or Leptoglossus phyllopusfor you science nerds, is the most common leaffooted bug I find in Central Florida. I have noticed that it is commonly gets confused with a stink bug. There are 9 species of Leptoflossus that can be found in Florida. The easiest identifying mark on adult Easter Leaffooted Bugs is the horizontal "crossbar" across the back of the adult bugs. The younger bugs (nymphs) can be confused with assassin bugs and milkweed bugs. The easiest way to identify nymphs is by the raised black circular areas on their orange backs.
Species: L. phyllopus
Leaffooted Bugs in various life stages on a passionvine leaf. Photo by FOL in The Serene Forest
In this photo you can see both adult and nymph leaffooted bugs. The adults are somewhat grey and brown whereas the nymphs are bright orange with raised black dots on their backs.
Other leaffooted bugs I have found in my Florida garden are the Chondrocera laticornis and Acanthocephala femorata which has the common name Florida Leaffooted Bug. C. laticornis is easily distinguishable by its color - a brown - orange that stands out. A. femorata, on the other hand looks almost identical to L. phyloppus with the exception of the distinctive "crossbar" previously mentioned.
Chondrocera laticornis missing hind leg. Photo by FOL taken in The Serene Forest
Species: L. phyllopus
Species: A. femorata
An interesting trait of leaffooted bugs is their willingness to lose a leg in self defense. While this is not an unheard of technique in nature, it is usually used by creatures that can grow their lost body part back. Unfortunately, leaffooted bugs will not grow a lost limb back. Instead, they will adapt to a life without it.
The most common host plants are thistles where the young larvae will eat and grow into the adult form. Other native hosts are elderberry, goldenrod, and jimsonweed. While this stage of life may not impact a foodscape or vegetable garden, it is the adults with wings that are of concern. Once they gain the ability to fly, they can leave the host plant in search of new food. Unfortunately for us gardeners, they will fly great distances just to come munch on food crops.
Florida Leaffooted Bug Acanthocephala femorata Photo By Wknight94 talk - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
So what food crops do they prefer? One common target is citrus. They begin with tender new shoots and blooms. Eventually they will focus on the ripening fruit where they puncture and suck the fruit. This causes a pathway for bacteria, fungi, and other pathogens to potentially infect the fruit. Infected fruits eventually will fall off the tree and be useless to the gardener. Great.... as if citrus wasn't already hard enough....
Other food crops that can be attacked by these critters are apple, bean, bell pepper, blueberry, blackberry, cowpea, cucurbits, eggplant, grain sorghum, lychee, loquat, oat, okra, peach, pear, persimmon, plum, pomegranate, potato, tomato, sunflower, and, to a lesser extent, rye,
wheat, barley, and soybean.
EasternLeaffooted nymph on passionvine leaf. Photo by FOL taken in The Serene Forest.
Damage done by these bugs appears as if it begins in one area and "sweeps" across to the other side. This pattern of damage is because of their fondness of their colony, or their attraction to staying as a group like in the first picture. One citrus tree may have a hundred bugs on it while another citrus tree a few yards away will have zero. Damage is done tree to tree, or plant to plant, as the whole colony moves. In contrast, pests that do not stick together can have more widespread simultaneous destruction.
If you find leaffooted bugs to be a problem in your foodscape, please start by allowing your foodscape's / garden's natural ecosystem to work. Natural predators include birds, assassin bugs, lizards, frogs, and spiders. If gardeners immediately remove leaffooted bugs, it does not allow enough time for these predators to find and begin eating them. Once these predators know food is there, they will begin patrolling those areas helping keep harmful pests in check.
If the infestation is large and you are concerned about your food crops, try hand removal next.
Push or bump bugs off stems and leaves into a cup of soapy water. Relocation is not effective due to the willingness of adults to travel far for food. If that still is not protecting your plants, chemicals may be necessary.
Eggs of leaf-footed bug, Leptoglossus species. Photograph by Lacy Hyche, Auburn University.
The University of Florida has information on chemical management for leaffooted bugs on their website included in with treatments for other citrus pests. Please be careful with the chemical they are recommending. In recent years there has been new information linking Malathion to cancer, child development issues, and other neuro complications. Not only is there studies pointing at Malathion causing harm to humans, but also to animal species. Below is the link to UF's website on Leaffooted Bugs and also a link to their chemical management for citrus.
Chondrocera laticornis photo by FOL taken in The Serene Forest