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The common name ‘chinch bug’ comes from the Spanish word chinche, which means bug or pest. Chinche may also be used when referring to a bed bug.
Chinch bugs can be found throughout the United States, Southern Canada, Mexico and Central America. There are multiple species of chinch bugs that feed on turfgrasses and crop plants such as corn, sorghum and wheat.
In Florida, the southern chinch bug is a serious insect pest of St. Augustinegrass. Including sod replacement and treatments, their damage costs millions of dollars each year.
There’s an old southern saying, “Give a chinch an inch and they take a yard!”
It is said that specific varieties of St. Augustinegrass are resistant to attack by chinch bugs. When first introduced to the marketplace, that may’ve been the case. Over time, certain strains of chinch bugs have adapted and can damage these resistant cultivars, as well.
Chinch bug nymphs and adults feed by extracting plant fluids with their piercing-sucking mouthparts. They also inject a toxin when they feed that causes the grass to yellow, turn reddish brown and eventually die.
Heavy southern chinch bug infestations cause substantial damage to St. Augustinegrass that leads to dead, brown patches of turf. These areas may resemble drought or cold damage.
Chinch bug activity slows down temporarily with the colder winter temperatures found in North Central Florida and is year round in Florida’s southern region.
Chinch bugs belong to the scientific order Hemiptera (half wing). Many of the adult members of this group have wings that are partially thick and partially membranous.
Hemipterans are referred to as “true bugs”. Bed bugs, stink bugs, lace bugs and assassin bugs are all members of the Hemipteran group. Ladybugs and lovebugs are not.
True bugs have a gradual or incomplete metamorphosis. Immatures (nymphs) resemble adults, but may vary in coloration, and usually have reduced wings which become larger as they mature. This would be similar to the development of a cockroach.
Young chinch bug nymphs are reddish-orange with a white band across the back, then darken to a battleship gray color as they mature and turn black before becoming adults. Adult chinch bugs are 1/8 – 1/5 inch long, with a black body and white markings on their wings.
Chinch bugs like dry hot conditions, such as water stressed areas or areas with full sunlight. Oftentimes, chinch bug damage will first be noticed by sidewalks and driveways.
Although chinch bugs can fly, they rarely do so.
Natural predators of chinch bugs include parasitic wasps, big-eyed bugs, minute pirate bugs, earwigs, assassin bugs, fire ants and spiders.
Big-eyed bugs and minute pirate bugs look very similar to chinch bugs. As the common name implies, the big-eyed bug has large eyes. The adult minute pirate bug is roughly half the size of an adult chinch bug and has yellow markings on its wings.
Many insect pests of lawns, including chinch bugs, live in thatch. Thatch is the spongy layer of dead plant material found between the green tops of the grass and soil.
Proper mowing, watering and fertilization help to prevent thatch build-up. Aeration can also assist in the reduction of thatch by speeding up the breakdown of this dead organic matter.
Chinch bug infestations can be detected by parting the grass bordering a yellowing or dead area and examining the base of the turf and the soil surface for active chinch bugs. Immatures can be tougher to see due to their small size.
Another means of detection is the flotation method. Cut the ends out of a metal coffee can and insert the can 3 inches into the soil surrounding the discolored grass. Fill the can with water. The chinch bugs trapped in the can will float to the top of the water.
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