What is a Chinch Bug and what does it look like?
In Ontario, Canada, brown beetles with black stripes appear at dusk in trees and bushes beginning in the early summer months. You know they are there because you can hear them buzzing, and you can see them sporadically flying about.
As soon as it gets really dark, these bugs seem to leave the tree branches and move about more, although they are also seen in the daytime occasionally. They usually only appear when it is really warm.
These are called “June bugs”, which are a type of Hairy Chinch Bug, and they are more of a nuisance than you might imagine.
These Chinch bugs or June bugs will dive bomb you as you walk outside in the evening, although maybe “dive bomb” is the wrong term as they basically just don’t seem to look where they’re going. They aren’t the smartest of creatures, so they will randomly slam into things, including you. But no, that’s not the worst of it…
What Do Chinch Bugs Like To Eat? Your Grass, For Starters…
June marks the beginning of summer in Southern Ontario Canada, and these Chinch bugs love the hot weather. Their favourite food is grass, and the new grasses are just beginning to grow at this time of year. If you are noticing that part of your lawn goes missing, it’s quite likely it is the fault of these hungry little beggars.
What does this grass damage look like? Very distinct, that’s for sure. It’s the equivalent of deforestation, but instead of trees, it’s your lawn. It’s important to know the difference between Chinch bug damage and drought. Drought just looks like your grass is dried up, while Chinch bug damage looks like parts of your lawn are now missing.
Where Are Chinch Bugs Found?
Chinch bugs have been found throughout the U.S., southern Canada, Mexico, and in Central America. There are over 30,000 different kinds of adult beetles worldwide, and Chinch bugs are a type beetle. The “June bug” type of Chinch bug is found primarily in Ontario, where I am from.
Chinch Bug Life Cycle
Beetles are insects, and insects develop through 4 stages or cycles. Insects begin life as an egg, develop into larvae or grubs, spend a few weeks in a cocoon or pupa, and finally emerge as an adult. In the very early stages of adulthood, this bug is referred to as a nymph. A nymph is a wingless adult. When the beetle is in the grub or larva stage, and in the nymph stage, it is known as…you guessed it, a chinch bug! This is when it does most of the damage to our lawns and grasses.
The Hairy Chinch Bug, (Blissus leucopterus hirtus)
This fine specimen creates lots of problems for home owners and is known for destroying lawns all across Ontario, Canada. The name chinch bug comes from the Spanish word, “chinche” which means “pest”.
The larvae feed on the roots of grass, and suck the juice from the stems. The larvae are very small, which makes them relatively unnoticeable.
The adults begin as immature bright red nymphs that have white bands across their abdomens, which are eventually covered by their enlarging wings, as the insects become larger and mature.
As full grown adults, they are grey/brown bugs with black strips. The nymphs are half the size of the adults.
A “c-shaped” chinch bug or grub is responsible for eating our lawns. They are smaller than a dime. The early adult beetle or nymph also feeds on grasses, and causes much damage to lawns.
When are chinch bugs active?
Hibernation from December to March – The adult “chinch” bug beetle is over wintering in hedges, along road sides, at the edges of woodlands, under tree barks, and inside field mice nests.
Mating and laying eggs from March to April – In early spring, sometime in March/April, when temperatures rise above 20 °C, these adults move out into a grassy environment such as a lawn, and lay new eggs on the roots and baby stems of the grass.
Eggs Hatch from April to May – The new eggs hatch in May and become grubs or larvae. These creatures eat the grass roots and suck the sweet juices from the grass stems. The temperatures are warming and the sun is in the sky longer. These grubs do not like wet humid weather because fungus which is fatal to them, grows well in damp conditions. The big-eye bug and the tiny wasp are also on the lookout for the chinch larvae. They love to eat them too, or at least parasite them.
Nymphs and adults feast and breed in June and July – Once they have enough nourishment, the larvae enclose themselves in a pupa or cocoon, and remain still as they transform into young adults or nymphs. Nymphs have no wings. Once they develop wings, they are considered mature adults and are ready to begin the process all over again. The nymphs also feed on the grasses and young corn plants as well.
Mating and laying eggs again in July to October – The new adults find mates and begin to lay new batches of hundreds of eggs. These adults continue to feast on grasses and young plants of all sorts.
Search for new hibernation locations in November – The new adults begin to hibernate and prepare themselves for a new spring.
Checking your lawn for Chinch Bugs
- Rake the brown grassy areas and maybe use a magnifying glass to check for larvae. You might even notice the odd adult in the dirt.
- Conduct a “float test” which may be easier than trying to find bugs in the turf. Cut the top and bottom off of a tin can and press it down into the soil about 3 inches. Fill the cylinder with water to almost 3/4 full. As the water disappears, continue to add more for about 10 minutes. If there are chinch bugs in the soil, they should float to the top. If you find 15 larvae per square foot, you have a problem.
- Watch for other animals digging in your lawn such as birds, raccoons, and skunks. They are looking for chinch bugs too. If no chinch bugs are found, but your grass is still brown or dead, it might be because you have over fertilized it, or dogs urinated on it.
- Beware of the leatherjacket which is the larva of the European crane fly. This flying insect looks like a very big mosquito that doesn’t bite. It loves to eat your lawn as well.
Treatment for Chinch Bug Problems / DIY Bug or Insect Control Solutions
Chinch bug grubs, nymphs, or even the adult beetles love the tender young roots of the grass plant. They also love to suck the sap from the grass stems. Both of these behaviours will cause your grass to turn brown and possibly die. You might want to treat your lawn as follows …
- Water it excessively in hot dry periods.
- Plant clover seeds in with the grass seeds. The clover plant holds water longer than grass, and therefore stays green longer. Beetles don’t really care for clover.
- Give your lawn a nematode treatment in June. Nematodes are microscopic worms that eat grubs. See you local nursery for the nematodes. You can store them in your fridge.
- Raking, top seeding with endophytes, and regular fertilizing is a healthy way to a healthy lawn.
- A good horticultural programme with a thatch reduction procedure and core aeration methods will go a long way to fight chinch bugs.
- One other product I can recommend is the PestZilla bug zapper (see below).