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Minute Pirate Bugs: Tiny Biters

by Barb Ogg, Extension Educator

From late summer until cold weather sets in, tiny insects—known as minute pirate bugs—bite people who, until that time, were enjoying spending time outdoors on a nice, warm, sunny day. People who experience these bites are often astonished such a tiny insect can make such a painful bite.

The minute pirate bug is about 1/8 of an inch long, oval to triangular in shape, somewhat flattened and black with whitish markings on the back.

Even though these insects are tiny, they are effective predators, feeding on thrips, mites, aphids, small caterpillars and eggs of insects. In fact, these biological control agent 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. Their bite is surprisingly painful as they probe their short blunt beak into the skin. They do not feed on blood, inject a venom, or transmit diseases.

People differ in their response to pirate bug bites. Bite reactions range from no reaction to having the area swell up like a mosquito bite.

It is not practical to control minute pirate bugs because this problem is temporary and variable from year to year and—more importantly—they are beneficial predators. Wearing dark clothing on very warm days when pirate bugs are abundant may help.

A friend reported covering exposed skin with baby oil makes it difficult for pirate bugs to "gain a foothold" and noticed the bugs tend to get stuck in the oil. Because pirate bugs are not attracted to carbon dioxide like blood-feeding arthropods, insect repellents are not effective against these tiny biters.

Other Seasonal Fall Pests


Updated October 15, 2003


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