Chinch bugs are a complex of three different species within the Lygaeidae family. They have piercing-sucking mouthparts and they feed on the sap of grass plants.
They reside in the thatch area of the turfgrass stand and prefer to feed on the lower leaf sheath and crown area of the plant. The chinch bug can be a major insect pest on home lawns throughout the country. The hairy chinch bug (Blissus hirtus) is the most common species in the Northeast. The hairy chinch bug prefers bentgrasses, but will attack many other lawn grasses as well. The adult chinch bugs are about 3 to 5 mm (1/8 to 1/5 inch) in length and black with white markings on the wings. The wings rest flat over the back of the insect and there is a black spot between the wings. Adults may be long-winged or short-winged.
In many instances, chemical control of chinch bugs is not necessary. Many lawns have natural populations of predators, such as ground beetles or “big-eyed bugs,” which can keep chinch bug populations from getting out of hand. Insecticide applications sometimes have very adverse effects on these predators, causing the chinch bug populations to develop more rapidly in subsequent years. Plant resistance has also been reported for a number of turfgrass species and cultivars. Research has demonstrated strong resistance of endophyte-enhanced turfgrasses to the hairy chinch bug.
Turfgrass managers usually control chinch bug populations after major damage has occurred. To avoid this problem in areas with habitual problems, an April to mid-May insecticide application will control the overwintering females and subsequent generations during the summer. Reinfestation may occur from adjacent areas, but this process is slow and may require an additional year or more.