Stilt bug (Family Berytidae)
As we’ve learned, now and then a crawly’s common name really hits the nail on the head. Such is the case for this week’s crawly. Meet the stilt bug (Family Berytidae).
Makes you wonder if walking on stilts would be easier with six legs than two, or just that much more difficult?
These bitty one-half inch long bugs (they are Heteroptera AKA true bugs) make it look easy. While they typically walk with a slow, casual gait, they can scurry to the “away from camera” side of a plant with impressive speed. Stilt bugs also have wings just in case taking giant steps away from potential danger isn’t sufficient.
Don’t panic: If you do a web search on stilt bugs you may see some “fun” clickbait titles such as “Control Stilt Bugs or Lose Your Garden.” Yeah, no. Those are pest control sites looking to scam you out of some coinage based on false fears.
There are 12 species of stilt bugs in North America. Most of those are phytophagous.
No. Well, I mean they do take a pretty picture, but “phytophagous” means “feeds on plants.”
In the case of stilt bugs, they feed on nectar and some pollen – so they are pollinators. Like other true bugs, they have a long proboscis (straw-like mouthpart) instead of “bitey” mouthparts to chomp on plant parts. They may sip from stems, but you’ll never notice the damage.
Stilt bugs have definite plant preferences as well, so they aren’t dining on just any plants.
The menu at The Stilt Bug Café includes just a few families: Geranium family, primrose family, figwort family and nightshade family – your basic “fuzzy” plants.
Note: Tomatoes are in the nightshade family, so you may want to scare stilt bugs off tomato plants. They startle easily and will go find something else to eat.
There are a couple of species, not found in our area, of stilt bug that do dine on grasses and one species has a thing for tobacco plants. Possibly they need a nicotine fix, but it’s more likely their real interest is eating the aphids that eat tobacco (would that be secondhand nicotine?) Stilt bugs are even raised and introduced into some tobacco fields as bio control.
More vocabulary fun: Any species of stilt bug may practice facultative carnivory/saprophagy.
Let’s break that down: “Facultative” means “taking place under some environmental conditions but not under others.” So, they will dine on small arthropods like aphids as well as their eggs (carnivory), or decaying animal or plant matter (saprophagy.)
Upshot: Stilt bugs are beneficial little buggies. They are definitely pollinators and pest controllers – whether their diet is more heavily nectar-based or aphid-based is something that is still being studied by entomologists. It may vary by species, location and/or which food is more readily available.
Stilt bugs don’t sting or bite, so they pose no danger to humans or animals.
Good news! You don’t have to wait for spring to get a close look at these wee elegant bugs. They can be found in Oregon year-round. They are easier to spot in spring when they are hitting the Nectar Bar. This time of year they blend in almost seamlessly with dry leaves.