Many true bugs have hard, flat covers on their backs that look like shields. These covers are called scutella (skyoo TEHL uh). They help protect, or shield, the bugs. That’s why these bugs are also called shield bugs. A scutellum is shaped like a triangle or a shield. Some stink bugs and many related true bugs have scutella so big that they cover most of their backs.
Stinkbugs come in a variety of colors. Some are all green. Some are all brown. Still others are black with white, yellow, orange, or red markings. Some stinkbugs have bright colors. Others have dull colors.
Like all true bugs, stinkbugs have no chewing mouthparts. Instead, they have tubelike beaks called rostrums attached to their heads. The rostrum has four thin, sharp needles in it.
Many stinkbugs sink their needles into plants. They use their needles to suck up the sap or juice that the plants use to transport and store food. Some stinkbugs stick their beaks into other insects and suck their body fluids. When not feeding, stinkbugs hold their beaks underneath their bodies between their front legs.
Like most true bugs, a stinkbug has two pairs of wings. The back wings are so thin you can almost see through them. The front wings are thick and tough at the base and very thin at the tips. When a stinkbug rests, the tips of its front wings cross, forming what looks like an “X.”
The harlequin (HAHR luh kihn) bug is a kind of stinkbug. This stinkbug is about 3/8 of an inch (10 millimeters) long. The harlequin bug may be small, but its colors make it easy to see. This bug’s name means “many colors.” The bug is black with bright red, orange, or yellow markings all over its body. Scientists think that these dazzling colors warn predators to stay away from this stinky bug.
Harlequin bugs often “hang out” on the leaves of their favorite crop: cabbage. These bugs often gather in large bunches. When they do, they can quickly destroy a cabbage crop.
Harlequin bugs once lived only in Mexico. Today, they live all over North America.
Stinkbugs make up the order Hemiptera, family Pentatomidae. The harlequin cabbage bug is Murgantia histrionica.
A stinkbug’s main weapon of defense is its odor. When in danger, the stinkbug releases a stinking liquid from its thorax. A bird or other predator often takes one whiff of the bug’s rotten smell and leaves the tiny creature alone.
Some stinkbugs also rely on their color for protection. Many blend in so well with their surroundings that they go unnoticed. Stinkbugs that are green, for example, are hard to see on green leaves and stems. Other stinkbugs have brown and gray patterns that help them blend in with tree bark.