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Major Infestation: What are Black Bugs?

In May this year, various cities in Central Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao had unwanted guests—black bugs. There was an unexpected widespread infestation in various farms. Crops were gravely destroyed and harvest was drastically delayed so restorative efforts could be done.

When this disaster happened, nobody had a clue what rice black bugs really were. They left the townspeople in disbelief—and with nothing but devastated fields. Farmers tried looking for long-term solutions in the hopes of banishing these pests for good. Unfortunately, there weren’t many termite control services available yet at the time. Should you encounter this problem today, here’s what you need to know about rice black bugs:

WHAT ARE RICE BLACK BUGS?

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The rice black bug (RBB), or known as itim na atangya in Filipino, is commonly found in rice fields and farmlands. Though harmless, they emit a foul odor and can cause itching when they come in close contact with the skin. They feed on rice from its seedling up to the maturity stage. They are highly destructive and thrive in well-irrigated but poorly-drained areas. These bugs are most abundant when there is a full moon—they are attracted to light. Rice black bugs prevent plants from seeding, thus hindering them from growing.

HOW CAN DAMAGED PLANTS BE IDENTIFIED?

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Rice black bugs can cause discoloration on leaves and they would look wounded because of the lesions present on them. Affected plants or crops would turn reddish brown or yellow in color. They would also appear stunted because the bugs sap the nutrients inside them which are essential for their seeding and growth. To test if your plants have “bugburn”, try lifting them up a little bit from the soil.  Damaged ones are difficult to pull from the ground. Keep a close eye on your plants shortly after the maturity stage because this is when bug attacks usually begin.

HOW CAN THEY BE CONTROLLED?

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Agriculturists suggest not using too much insecticide because this may equally be harmful to all of your crops, even the ones that are not affected as much. Using insecticides to a minimum will also prevent the death of the black bugs’ natural enemies—red ants, damsel bugs, wasps, lynx and long-jawed spiders, and coccinellid beetles. An alternative is to submerge egg masses in their fields. If eggs remain underwater for 24 hours, they will no longer hatch. Breeding ducks is also an option since they feed on black bugs. According to experts, their attacks can be prevented even at the start of planting season. Farmers are advised to plant different rice varieties at a slightly different time from the usual planting period as this interferes with the bugs’ life cycle.

Since rice black bugs are easily attracted to light, farmers can also use high-intensity light traps with 2,000-3,000 Watts. This is effective when there are outbreaks, especially during nighttime. The ideal time for light-trapping is between 8pm-12mn.

Sanitation can also be a good way of preventing these pest infestations. Weeds should be taken out as these serve as sanctuaries to the black bugs. Instead of excessively spraying insecticides, farmers should try to look for more natural ways of protecting their livelihood from these destructive pests.

BOO, BLACK BUGS!

Rice black bugs may be considered harmless, but this doesn’t mean that it’s okay to let them invade our farmlands. Too much of everything can be fatal to humans and crops so we should be careful in using pesticides in controlling and getting rid of these critters. Let’s try our best to be eco-friendly even when killing pests—and never confuse black bugs for food!


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