The brown stink bug is an occasional pest
of tomatoes.
  The leaf-footed bug in the nymph stage will
tightly cluster as a family group to feed on a
variety of plants including passionvine (shown
above), pecans, ornamentals, citrus,
as well as tomatoes.
  The leaf-footed bug feeding on a tomato grown
in the Demonstration Garden at the
Extension Office!

A.  The rough sandpaper-like texture that you have seen is evidence of an insect known as the leaf-footed bug. While many area gardeners also call them stinkbugs (because they produce a foul odor when handled), leaf-footed bug is the preferred name.

The immature stages (known as nymphs) of this insect are spindly, soft-bodied and bright orange-red in color. Very young nymphs stay tightly clustered as a family unit. The adult stage of the leaf-footed bug is brown, oblong and nearly an inch long. The species most common to this area has a distinctive white band extending across the front wings. The hind legs have a leaf-like shaped area from which the insect’s name is derived.

There are other species of stinkbugs that feed on tomato fruit including the green and brown stinkbugs. However, the green and brown stinkbugs are minor insect pests in our growing area.
Leaf-footed bugs have a needle-like, piercing-sucking mouthpart through which they suck plant juices. The puncture made is what caused the spot and the deformation that you have observed. While making the puncture, a toxin is injected into the fruit. If you peel back the skin, you will see that this discolored area is more than superficial. The tissue below the skin is a somewhat corky or spongy mass of silvery white cells.

This damage is serious for commercial fresh market tomatoes and whole pack processing tomatoes because it renders the fruit unmarketable. However, if the fruit was of high quality prior to damage, the processor might cut out the spots and use the remaining tomato as canned pieces. The undamaged portion of the tomato in a home garden certainly can be consumed, if desired.

Leaf-footed bugs are also serious pests of other crops including beans, cowpeas, eggplants, okra, citrus, and pecans. Adult leaf-footed bugs migrate from weedy areas into tomato plants, particularly when the fruit has started to ripen. This is why you typically do did not see damage early in the season but you did see damage later in the harvest season.

Leaf-footed bugs are difficult to control. Weedy areas, such as fence rows and ditch banks, serve as shelters for these insects during the winter season, and when tomatoes and other host plants are not available. Therefore, to eliminate such areas near your garden or to keep weedy areas closely mowed would be beneficial.

Insecticides such as permethrin (such as Spectracide’s Bug Stop Multi-purpose Insect Killer or Bonide’s Total Pest Control Concentrate Outdoor Formula) or cyfluthrin (such as Bayer’s Advanced Garden Lawn & Garden Multi-Insect Killer) or esfenvalerate (such as Ortho’s Bug-B-Gon Multi-purpose Insect Killer Concentrate or Bonide’s Bug Beater Concentrate) are effective in controlling leaf footed bugs as well as stink bugs, aphids, fruitworms and hornworms. Do not use permethrin on varieties with fruit less than one inch diameter. Be sure to observe the days-to-harvest period indicated on the pesticide label. Be certain to wash the fruit before using.

It is important to observe your garden on a daily basis. Should you spot leaf-footed bugs, you might handpick the bugs, especially early in the season and when the very young nymphs are tightly clustered. You should use gloves because of the odor they will emit when handled and you should drop them into a can of soapy water.

This web site is maintained by Master Gardener Laura Bellmore under the direction of William M. Johnson, Ph.D., County Extension Agent-Horticulture & Master Gardener Program Coordinator.

All digital photographs are the property of  the Galveston County Master Gardener Association, Inc. (GCMGA) © 2002-2013 GCMGA - All Rights Reserved.