So, you need to know how to get rid of mesquite bugs. Naturally.
You’re dealing with these giant bugs and they’re probably freaking you out.
This comprehensive guide will give you 8 ways you can control their population using DIY methods.
We’ll cover some basic details about them, why you have them, what they eat, and how to get rid of them.
Feel free to bookmark this page so you can come back on your journey.
Sound good? Let’s save your mesquite trees!
Last updated: 12/30/19.
What’s a mesquite bug?
The giant mesquite bug (Thasus neocalifornicus) is a pest that does exactly what their name states!
They feed on mesquite trees which are often found throughout the southwest.
They’re part of the Hemiptera order, which means they’re a true bug.
And they’re also the only known bug in the Thasus genus in the US.
Mesquite bugs are a harmless pest that are actually pretty amazing to look at. They have amazing coloration with striated patterns on their back.
These bugs are only present during the warmer months from May to August in the southwest US.
If you don’t have to disturb them, please don’t. These are bugs that are really just doing their own thing and are harmless towards humans!
The only problem with them is when they have too many numbers crawling around on your mesquite trees.
That’s when you should consider limiting their numbers.
Other names they’re known by:
- Leaf-footed bug
- Giant mesquite bug
Where are they found?
They’re a desert species and most commonly found in the Sonoran Desert. This spans across Arizona, California, Northwestern Mexico, Baja California, and Baja California Sur.
Their native tree, the mesquite tree (Prosopis spp.) grows in hardiness zones 6B through 11 in the southwestern United States.
The most common areas where you’ll find giant mesquite bugs are:
- Arizona (Tucson)
- Baja California Sur
There are other mesquite trees also:
- Velvet mesquite (Prosopis velutina); hardy in zones 9 through 11
- Chilean mesquite (Prosopis chilensis); hardy in zones 9 through 11
- Honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa); hardy in zones 6 through 9
- Argentine mesquite (Proposis alba); hardy in zones 9 through 10
All of these trees have yellow to white flowers that emerge during the spring.
The leaves are expansive with flowing pinnate leaves which are deciduous during the winter.
They also emit sap and green tree pods. The mesquite bugs will feed on all of these.
What do they look like?
Mesquite bug anatomy proves to be dazzling as they’re very unique in appearance.
They have gorgeous striated patterns along their shield-like body, antenna, and legs.
They have a bright color with segmented patterns that have evolved to tell other predators not to eat them.
Mesquite bugs have 6 legs with a pair of antennae and a disk-like body.
Their antennae and legs are often red and black. Their back is red and white with a variety of patterning.
When you see the brightly-colored ones, this is the nymph form.
You’ll often see many nymphs grouped together, eating a single branch of a mesquite tree. They prefer seed pods and new leaves which are softer and easier to digest.
The adult mesquite bugs aren’t nearly as colorful. They have developed wings that cover the back.
Mature bugs measure about 1.25 to 2″ and have a visible pair of black and yellow wings that cover their shield. They also have banded antennae and legs.
When you see a pair of wings on their back, you can be sure that it’s an adult. The nymph has no wings and you can see the patterning on their rear.
They also emit a nasty chemical smell to warn predators that they can be poisonous (even though they’re not).
The scent deters birds, reptiles, and even dogs from eating them.
Another thing to note: Their chemical noxious scent changes as they mature.
As they grow up, the secretion scent will change to adapt to the various predators that may eat them through different parts of their life cycle.
They also emit pheromones to signal to other mesquite bugs within the same stage of their life.
They can communicate warnings and dispersion signals to all other mesquite bugs, but they need to be the same “age.”
Nymph bugs don’t seem to take these scents well.
Males vs. females
The males can easily be identified because they have huge femurs on their legs. To tell the difference, just look at their rear legs.
The male bugs will have huge legs that appear to be “buff” compared to the females.
Females also have discs on the tips of their antennae. They look like flat frisbees.
Mesquite bugs will molt as they mature and you can spot them in different parts of their life cycle based on wing length.
As they grow up, the wingspan will get larger over time.
The wings will be orange and white as they molt. A fully-developed wingspan will be crossed with black and yellow.
There are also colors that are rarer, which are usually a mutation or cross (or possible molt).
Giant mesquite bug life cycle
They have a basic and straightforward life cycle. Pregnant adult females will lay eggs from August until October.
The eggs will stay on the plants and hatch early spring. The nymphs emerge and will start feeding on the mesquite plants nearby.
They’ll go through multiple instars and morph over time.
Eventually, they’ll develop a full pair of wings, which grants them flight. At this point, they’re considered an adult.
The nymphs are brightly colored and have no wings. They have the red and white striations on the back and are easy to notice.
After each morph, they’ll start to resemble their adult forms and develop a pair of wings.
After the rings are developed, they’ll cover the back and they’ll be able to fly through the air. The adults are not as colorful they nymphs.
Their eggs hatch during the early spring and the nymphs emerge and immediately begin feeding.
They’re most colorful at this point in their life and eventually turn into 1.25-2” adults by early summer.
This is when they appear most threatening as lots of people are afraid of their huge staggering size. Mesquite bugs have one generation of eggs per year (univoltine).
Are mesquite bugs bad?
No. There’s nothing really bad about having them around your trees.
They’re a necessary member of the ecosystem and rarely cause any harm to the actual tree.
What do they eat?
Mesquite bugs only eat mesquite trees. If you have these trees native to your area, you’ll probably see a huge amount of them outdoors.
They may even mistakenly make their way into your home!
They really only pose an annoyance when you’re trying to keep them off your mesquite trees.
Or when you go outdoors and you just see a ton of them all over your foliage.
Mesquite bugs will eat only tender leaves, tree sap, or green seed pods.
You’ll often see a ton of them all feeding on a single branch, which can be disturbing.
But they often don’t cause enough harm to the tree to damage it. The mesquite tree recovers over time.
You’ll often find them on the softer undersides of leaves. They’ll eat their way towards the tree trunk during the summertime.
Do they bite?
No. The giant mesquite bugs are harmless and relatively peaceful creatures.
They don’t bite, sting, or do any harm. They’re harmless towards humans, pets, and even other bugs.
Just like mealybugs or kudzu bugs, these pests are just looking for a plant to eat and nothing else.
They exclusively feed on mesquite and nothing else. They also don’t transmit any diseases.
So it’s almost painful to exterminate or disturb them, which is why you shouldn’t unless absolutely necessary.
Can mesquite bugs fly?
Yes, fully-matured giant mesquite bugs can fly.
They have developed wings that allow them to fly from one tree to another.
This lets them feed, breed, and lay eggs quite easily, which helps explain why there are so many of them.
Both females and males can fly when fully-matured.
Here’s a video showing off some mesquite bugs (via Chris and Amanda’s Tree Service):
Are Mesquite bugs poisonous?
Mesquite bugs aren’t poisonous, even though they may look threatening because of their color patterns. They don’t have any stingers and don’t transmit any venom either.
Most people are afraid of them or feel threatened because of their large size and contrasting colors on their shield-like body.
But these are not a poisonous species.
How do you get rid of mesquite bugs?
Mesquite bugs are difficult to get rid of because they appear in such huge numbers.
These are harmless creatures so you should avoid exterminating them if possible.
If you have mesquite trees in your yard, you can manage them.
But it’s not possible to get rid of all of them, especially if they’re native to your area. It’s very difficult to control their numbers.
Since they’re harmless towards mesquite trees and don’t really do any permanent damage, there aren’t any pesticides made just for mesquite bugs.
So using commercial approaches isn’t practical.
However, there are some things you can do to control them and reduce their population.
Here are some home remedies you practice that should help bring down their numbers.
1. Manually remove their eggs
The first thing you’d want to do is to look for mesquite bug eggs.
You can find these all over mesquite trees and they’re pretty easy to spot.
You’ll often find them on the protruding branches during the colder seasons from fall to winter.
The eggs are tan-colored and you’ll find them laid out in neat rows. They’ll be on various tree branches and you may see dozens of them all over the tree.
The eggs should be present during the months of August to October and will survive the winter. The adults don’t survive after the cold frost.
Grab a scraper that’s sturdy (such as a paint peeler or putty knife) and start scraping them off.
You can often scrape off the whole row of eggs in just one motion. You need to be efficient so it doesn’t take forever.
How to get rid of the eggs
Try to align the scraper against the tree and press firmly. Try not to crush the eggs as you scrape because they release an odor.
Bring a large container and fill it up with water and a few spoonfuls of dish soap.
This will help kill the mesquite eggs and also make it easier to separate the eggs from your scraper.
As you scrape off the eggs, dunk them right into the container and “wipe” them off.
They’ll be sticky and you may have to use your fingers to remove them.
Make sure you wear gloves so you don’t have to touch the crushed eggs.
You’ll probably also want to suit up so you don’t get bitten or stung by other pests.
2. Prune your mesquite trees
To help reduce the number of available food sources, you can prune your mesquite trees. If you just have a few mesquite trees, this is definitely something you can do.
Just prune off the branches that have new leaves, as the nymphs eat these young, tender leaves.
Cutting them off will limit the available amount of food for newly-born mesquite bugs, so their population won’t be able to sustain.
The bugs will naturally produce fewer and fewer eggs for the coming season because there’s less food available. If you keep your trees pruned, you can effectively control their population.
- More branches = more bugs
- Fewer branches = fewer bugs
This will take time and many seasons, but it’s worth considering if you have mesquite trees around your home.
This is a natural way you can get rid of those giant mesquite bugs.
3. Grow other trees
For those who want to completely get rid of these bugs, your only option is to cut down your mesquite tree.
No tree? No problem.
Without a food source, there’s no reason why you’ll still have mesquite bugs. Cut the trees down and the bugs will go away.
Of course, this may be something you’ll have to think about.
After you cut them down, you can grow other trees or plants in place.
4. Attract natural predators
Don’t want to cut down your trees? Too lazy to prune them?
Then try attracting some predators of mesquite bugs.
Although they do emit a chemical scent and are dangerously colored, there are still plenty of species that’ll eat them up.
Find some native predators that live in your area and do some research on how you can attract more of them.
Don’t try to attract something that’s difficult. Find a predatory that you already see and find out how to get more of them to your yard.
This way, they’ll be able to eat up the mesquite bugs and all you need to do is research how to attract more.
What eats mesquite bugs?
Because of their bright coloration, they stand out and have a lot of natural predators.
Even though they’re a large pest, there are plenty of predators that’s pretty on them without hesitation as they make a quick and bountiful meal.
Here are some of the most common predators of mesquite bugs:
- Pallid bats
You’ll want to see which ones are native to your area and research on how to attract more of them.
You can just search for something like “how to attract [your predator]” on your favorite search engine!
5. Use a hose
You can attach a nozzle to your hose and simply spray them down. Do this enough times and disturb their eating habits.
This will disrupt their breeding and feeding, which will reduce the number of bugs in the future.
6. Scrape the eggs from new mesquite trees
Once they lay eggs, they’ll spawn more bugs making the process more difficult. If you stop them right away, you may be able to stop them altogether.
You can check for eggs daily and remove them as you spot them.
This will require constant monitoring and checking for eggs.
7. Relocate them
You should probably never do this, but if you really need to just remove a few, you can relocate them.
This is important because some trees have never been infested with them before.
Just grab some container and cath them. Then release them somewhere else far from your home.
8. Use a thyme sock
You can soak an old sock using just thyme oil and hang it on your mesquite tree. This should naturally repel mesquite bugs.
You can also use other essential oils:
- Peppermint oil
- Eucalyptus oil
- Neem oil
See which one works best for your scenario. Replace the sock weekly because it’ll evaporate into the air.
Preventing mesquite bugs
There’s no way to really prevent these bugs from coming back. As long as you have mesquite trees around your home, they’ll constantly come back.
You could try using essential oils at home to repel them.
Though, this isn’t practical because there are just so many of them. This only works for those with just one or two trees.
Essential oils will repel mesquite bugs, but the problem would be that you can’t possibly cover all your trees in this oil at all times.
Though if you want to try, you could try using peppermint or tea tree oil. Add a few drops into a spray bottle and fill up the rest with water. Then spray directly onto the trees.
The only way is to constantly prune your trees. Or get rid of them. Or move.
If you have mesquite trees, you’ll probably have mesquite bugs.
Did you get rid of your mesquite bug problem?
That’s all I’ve got!
These bugs are gentle creatures, so only take action if you must. otherwise, they’re OK to leave alone because they don’t eat up everything.
The mesquite trees should be okay even if there are swarms of them.
You now have the power to control and manage them for good. You know everything you need to know.
If you have any comments, leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you ASAP.
Or if you found this DIY pest control guide to be helpful, let me know also!
Consider telling a friend. If you’re dealing with mesquite bugs, chances are a neighbor is also =]!
Thanks for reading!
Currently an active researcher in the pest control industry for the past 8 years- with a focus on using natural and organic methods to eliminate pest problems.
I share handy DIY pest techniques I come across here to help out others (and possibly save them from a mental breakdown).
Fight nature with nature.
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How do I get rid of mesquite bugs