Help me! This bug is eating my pepper plants! Anyone know what it is or how to get rid of it, short of pesticides?
UPDATE, 9:30 p.m.
Thanks to my very savvy and smart Facebook friends (I posted this on there too) I found out that this is a Four-Lined Plant Bug (Poecilocapus lineatus). It preys on all sorts of garden vegetables. Apparently it is not fatal to the plants it eats, but it sure did a number on my poor peppers:
The recommended way of getting rid of it is simply picking it off the plant and squishing it. This was harder than I thought it would be, since these suckers can fly! I was a pretty comical sight, swatting around my garden tonight. I killed 4 or 5 of them, and Adam killed 4 or 5 of them this afternoon. Does 10 bugs make an infestation? I’m not sure. I’m going to keep checking several times a day for the next few days and see if I can get some more.
I am really relieved that these did not turn out to be cucumber beetles. There is a very subtle difference. Look at the picture above, then look at this one:
The four-lined bug has a little black triangle on its butt and the cucumber beetle does not, and that’s about it for easily distinguishable differences. The cucumber beetle does much worse damage, transmitting the bacterial wilt organism (here’s a pdf about cucumber beetles from the U of WI extension service). The picture above I grabbed from the University of Connecticut pest management site.
I can’t believe what an awesome gardening resource we have in university extension services/horticulture departments. Today while hunting around for information about this bug I found The Veg Edge, a website by the University of Minnesota extension service. It is awesome! You can search vegetable insect profiles by plant name or insect name, and there is some really useful info on there that is specific to our region, with pictures. Highly recommended.
Update 24 July 2009: These bugs seemed to just go away after just a day or two of vigilant squishing. My pepper plants survived, and thrived, and now we are eating peppers. I’m really glad I resisted the urge to go out and buy some pesticides.