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Don’t lose sleep over these red bugs in your garden

Red bugs are more nuisance than threatening.
Red bugs are more nuisance than threatening.

Q: My hibiscus plant is covered in red bugs. Should I be concerned?

Rosa M., San Luis Obispo

A: While an infestation of red bugs may appear threatening, these fellows are nothing to lose sleep over. Relatively new to North America, red bugs (Scantius aegyptius) were first spotted in Southern California in 2009 and have been making their way to our neck of the woods ever since.

They are more nuisance than threatening, though their attire may have you fooled. Scantius aegyptius attract attention with their red-orange coloring offset by contrasting jet-black head, antennae and legs. This aposematic scheme is intended as a warning of indigestion — or worse — for those who may view the insect as a tasty treat.

One flashy creature may not turn heads, especially considering that the average length of the bug is 7-9 millimeters. But when these pests congregate in party numbers, the creepy-crawly redness may have you thinking you’ve somehow encouraged guests from the underworld.

Scantius aegyptius is native to the eastern Mediterranean region. It has a particular interest in plants in the Knotweed (Polygonum spp.) and Malva (Malva parviflora) family such as buckwheat, hibiscus, mallow and hollyhock. Generally, S. aegyptius subsists on seeds and seed pods.

Often this insect is seen “brightening-up” weedy lots. You may be concerned that a swath of red-wriggliness may set its sights on your backyard. Despite this morbid thought, experts do not see this insect as worthy of heavy consideration.

Should you find a family taking up residence on your favorite plant, eradication is the same as that of the Bagrada, boxelder, or jadera bug, which have a confluence of annoyingly similar habits.

Believe it or not, this pest can be removed with a hand-held vacuum. Weeds that attract red bugs should be removed and disposed of to prevent infestation. Exclude entry by using floating row covers or screening material with a fine mesh. Pesticides are not recommended.

Andrea Peck is a UCCE Master Gardener

Got a gardening question?

In San Luis Obispo call 781-5939, Arroyo Grande, 473-7190 and Templeton, 434-4105. Visit us at http://ucanr.org/sites/mgslo/ or email us at anrmgslo@ucanr.edu. Follow us on Instagram at slo_mgs and like us on Facebook. Informative garden workshops are held the third Saturday of every month, 10 a.m. to noon at 2156 Sierra Way, San Luis Obispo. Garden docents are available after the workshop until 1 p.m. To request a tour of the garden, call 781-5939.

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