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Pirate bug

From late summer until cold weather sets in, tiny insects known as minute pirate bugs bite people who spend time outdoors on warm days. People who experience these bites often are amazed a tiny insect can make such a painful bite.

The scientific name of this bug is Orius insidiosus, also known as the insidious flower bug. It is a predatory insect in the order Hemiptera.

The minute pirate bug is tiny - about 1/8 of an inch long - somewhat flattened and black with distinctive whitish markings on the back.The photo by Jim Kalisch, UNL Entomology, shows how small this insect is.

Both immature and adults of these tiny insects are effective predators and feed on thrips, mites, aphids, tiny caterpillars, and eggs of insects. In fact, these biological control agents can be purchased from several commercial companies for natural greenhouse and garden pest control.

During the summer, minute pirate bugs are abundant in crop fields, woodlands, gardens, and landscapes. In late summer, they begin the disagreeable behavior of biting humans they inadvertently land on. The bite of a minute pirate bug is surprisingly painful as it probe its short blunt beak into the skin. They do not feed on blood, inject a venom, or transmit diseases. They cannot live indoors.

People differ in their response to pirate bug bites. Bite reactions range from no reaction to swelling similar to that from a mosquito bite.

There is no practical method of controlling minute pirate bugs.

A friend reported she applied baby oil to her skin when she was working outdoors. She noticed the bugs were getting stuck in the oil and less able to bite. Because pirate bugs are not attracted to carbon dioxide like mosquitoes, insect repellents are not effective against these tiny biting bugs.

Barb Ogg
Former Extension Educator, Entomology
Barb Ogg shared her love of entomology with clientele throughout Nebraska for many years through Nebraska Extension. Barb retired in 2015.

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