Damsel Bugs, Family Nabidae

Damsel bugs are generalist predators.

Damsel bugs (or nabids, from the family name Nabidae) are slender, tan-colored bugs that resemble small, smooth-looking assassin bugs or other plant bugs that feed on crops. They generally have large, rounded eyes and long legs. This small family of generalist predators is commonly found in many crop and garden situations. Some other species of damsel bugs are black, but these are less common. Damsel bugs feed on many types of insects. They are predators of aphids, moth eggs, and small caterpillars, including corn earworm, European corn borer, imported cabbageworm and some armyworms. Other prey may include leafhoppers, small sawfly larvae, mites, tarnished plant bug nymphs, and asparagus beetle and Colorado potato beetle eggs and nymphs. They typically eat one egg or aphid per day when small and as many as 1-2 dozen eggs or other prey as later instars and adults. Although they can survive for up to two weeks without food, if no other prey is available they will turn to cannibalism. They use their thickened raptorial front legs that are lined with spines to catch and hold prey, then suck out the body contents with their piercing mouthparts.

Nabis sp. adult.

Members of the genus Nabis are the most abundant damsel bugs in crops and gardens. The most common species in Wisconsin are N. americoferus (the most common species in all of North America) and N. roseipennis which are very similar in appearance. They both have one to two generations per year and overwinter as adults. The females deposit their tiny eggs in plant stems or other tissue and the immatures (nymphs) go through five instars before becoming adults.

Nabis sp. nymph.

Damsel bugs are attacked by a number of natural enemies themselves, including parasitic tachinid Leucostoma simplex, the mymarid wasp egg parasitoid Polynema boreum, and the entomopathogenic fungus Verticillium lecanii.

Damsel bugs are commonly found in home gardens, where they prefer to take shelter in low growing grasses and ground covers. Maintaining such environments will encourage these predators, although the impact of damsel bugs in reducing pest damage in the home landscape is not known.

– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison


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Additional Information

  • Damsel bugs – on University of Kentucky’s Critter Files website

11 thoughts on “Damsel Bugs, Family Nabidae

  1. I was glad to see that some insects are actually helpful by eating harmful insects. I have seen the destruction of the pine sawfly larvae, so I am happy to see that there is something that will eat it! And if they have no food, they will resort to cannibalism, and eat their own kind. Pretty self-sufficent bug!

  2. I’ve heard of damsel bugs but had never seen a picture of one. It’s good to be able to provide an answer to “what is a GOOD bug to have?” I also enjoyed the UK article and how they got their name. How very southern – they’re holding up the end of their skirt.

  3. I also appreciate the detailed and close-up photos. Now that I know what damsel bugs look like, I will be sure to keep an eye out for them in my garden. Though it’s easy to assume that insects in the garden are bad, articles like this one that point out the positive insects are very helpful. It was interesting to note that the consumption increases so much as this insect gets “older”.

  4. I need to forget my feeling that all bugs are some how harmful and to look closely to identify friend or foe. The picture is very helpful.

  5. I always called them assassin bugs and not damsel bugs. I have found them prolific on my red milkweed and swamp milkweed. I was wondering if they eat monarch caterpillars. I have been rescuing the caterpillars because they never get to chrysalis stage. Also was wondering if they get hurt by the use of Diatomaceous Earth like other bugs. It is a great bug for the garden ..just don’t like them on my milkweed.

  6. I could have used some Damsel bugs to deter the pine saw fly larvae on my mugo pine several weeks ago! I didn’t realize there was a predator bug that will eat so many garden pests or eggs.

  7. I’ve heard of the damsel bug but never really “saw” one and was able to say that’s what it was. Now I’ll have to watch for them. I’d love to have them in my veg garden to take care of the potato beetles, etc.

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