When looking at a bigeyed bug, the word mighty does not spring to mind—unless you plan to follow it with small. But after learning just what this little warrior is capable of, mighty is indeed the perfect adjective. Because bigeyed bugs forage for pests on plants as well as on the soil, these microhelpers are vitally important to gardeners. Both the nymphs and adults of this beneficial insect are protein eaters. Measuring a mere one-sixth of an inch, each bigeyed bug is capable of consuming significant quantities of pests per day, including spider mites, aphids, cabbageworms, leafhoppers, flea beetles, corn earworms, and whiteflies (among many others).
Slightly oblong with a broad head and wide-set bulging eyes, the adults have clear wings that overlap and rest on their backs. Nymphs look much the same except they're a bit smaller and lack wings. Several species of bigeyed bugs call North America home, and, thankfully, they are naturally present in most back yards—except for those regularly blanketed with chemical pesticides. Though their primary food source is other insects, bigeyed bugs also feed on nectar, sap, and small seeds to sustain themselves when prey is scarce. They spend the winter in garden debris and grassy areas, emerging in spring to begin feeding on prey by piercing them with a specialized mouthpart and sucking out the internal organs.
There are two keys to maintaining a healthy population of bigeyed bugs in the landscape. One is to eliminate chemical pesticides, and the other is to plant lots of low-growing, shrubby plants—oregano, thyme, and low ornamental grasses are a few good choices. These provide winter habitat as well as summer shelter. And if you really want to bring 'em in, plant a small portion of the garden with alfalfa and clover; both have prostrate habits and available nectar.
Photo: Bradley Higbee, Paramount Farming, Bugwood.org