Crawlies with Cri: Bright-spotted ground bug

(Photos by Christy Solo, Illinois Valley News)

Bright-spotted ground bug (Rhyparochromus vulgaris)

This week we’ll meet a true bug with an unfortunate Latin name and a spritely common name. Meet the bright-spotted ground bug (Rhyparochromus vulgaris).
Bright-spotted are in the Family Rhyparochromidae which has about 170 species in North America. The common name for this family is “dirt-colored seed bugs” which is about as unfortunate as the brights’ species name “vulgaris.” These bugs can’t catch a break.
To be fair, “dirt-colored” is darn accurate. All 170 species in the family come in a variety of shades from brown to blackish-brown and a few sport some red clay highlights.
They also come by the “seed bug” moniker honestly. Brights and their seedy cousins are mostly seed-eaters. A few species prefer sap and fewer still are predators of soft-bodied insects such as aphids.
Brights are in the Order Heteroptera, AKA “true bugs.” The Order got the “true bug” title because we tend to refer to all arthropods as “bugs” but in taxonomy terms, only Heteroptera are actual “bugs.”
Brights are also true seedeaters, but don’t panic! These bitty bugs (one-quarter of an inch in length) aren’t garden or crop pests. They’ve rightly earned their “ground bug” name as they prefer to scavenge fallen seeds off the ground versus chomping into living plants.
Brights do have wings, and are decent little flyers, but their dirt-colored camouflage means life on the ground is the safest place for them as they forage.
Well, they don’t “chomp” really. One of the key features of all true bugs is their straw-like mouth parts. That’s “straw” as in “sippy straw” not “hay.” They have a singular tube-like mouth part called a “rostrum” which they use to pierce their seedy meals. Then they inject enzymes into the seed through the rostrum. The enzymes liquefy the inside of the seed and the bugs sip down their meal.
We’d save a lot of money on blenders if we could just liquefy any food item with our mouths!
Of course, even if brights were garden or crop pests (again, they are not), that would hardly be an issue in our area. Brights are native to Europe and only recently made it across The Pond landing in Washington State around 2006.
They have now been found in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana, with only about 100 individuals having been identified in all of Oregon and about 500 throughout the states they now call home.
All that said, in Europe where there are large numbers of brights, they can be winter pests. Many species of true bugs overwinter as adults, and they love to do so in big groups in woodpiles or even in the siding or inside the walls of houses.
Quick tips for keeping all species of true bugs from holing up in your home:

  • Install door sweeps at the base of exterior doors.
  • Seal all cracks in the siding.
  • One point of entry is the meeting of the foundation and siding of a building. Caulk or fill this juncture.
  • Seal utility openings where pipes and wires enter the foundation or siding.
  • Avoid storing firewood next to and inside the house. Many critters like to rest in firewood piles.
    If you’d like to see a pretty, bitty bright-spotted ground bug, check sunny spots outdoors on our warmer winter days, and on the ground where seeds have fallen in late spring, summer and fall.