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Chinch Bugs

Chinch BugsDescription: Adult chinch bugs are small (1/6 inch), black, true bugs. Their wings are folded over their back and appear whitish. However, there are also many wingless adults. The immature bugs (nymphs) are red with a white band across the back and are wingless. They range from about 1/20 inch to approximately the adult size. The eastern hairy chinch bug has more hairs on the body and appendages than the Midwestern (typical) species.

Chinch bugs are very destructive pests, feeding only on plants belonging to the grass family -- all our cultivated and wild grasses, corn, sorghum, and small grains. Chinch bugs often severely damage home lawns, golf greens, and other fine turf.

Damage: Chinch bugs feed on the grass by piercing the tissues and sucking the juices out. Injured plants turn yellowish at first, then brown and die if feeding continues. Damage is first seen as discolored, scattered patches, which may enlarge to include the entire lawn. An unchecked infestation may completely destroy a lawn. Chinch bugs feed on bentgrass, bluegrass, and fescues, but no type of grass is immune to attack. Lawns containing bentgrass are often seriously injured in New Jersey. Fescues are very susceptible to damage and are often killed in dry seasons. Less chinch bug damage occurs in wet seasons because rainy weather apparently either slows their development, increases disease, or reduces the impact of their feeding on the grass. Chinch bugs love the sun and are first found in the thinner, poorer, sunnier sections of the lawn.

Sampling for Chinch Bugs: Because chinch bug damage appears quickly in hot weather, it is often confused with drought injury. Being so small, chinch bugs can be difficult to find. It is possible to find them by getting down on one's hands and knees and closely searching the crown of the grass adjacent to damaged areas. However, there is an easier method: Cut both ends out of a 2- to 3-pound coffee can or use some similar cylinder. Push one end of the can firmly into the turf in a sunny spot at the edge of damaged areas so that it will hold water (2 inches should be enough). Fill the can with water and keep it full. If chinch bugs are present, they will shortly float to the surface. Collect with a small brush, blade of grass, pine needle, etc., and transfer to rubbing alcohol for identification (gin, vodka, or tequila can be used for a substitute).

Control: As soon as initial damage is noted in June (or chinch bugs are found by floating), treat the entire lawn with a registered lawn insecticide labeled for chinch bug. A second application may be necessary in August (for second generation). Because insects may have spread to apparently healthy grass before treatment, it is best to treat the entire lawn.