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'Red Bugs' Confirmed in San Diego County

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Scantius aegyptius | Photo: Ferran Turmo Gort/Flickr/Creative Commons License

A red bug native to the eastern Mediterranean that was found in Ramona has been positively identified as Scantius aegyptius, the San Diego County Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures said Wednesday.

A woman first noticed the bugs last summer, and county officials recently confirmed their identity. The bugs were first identified in Southern California when one was found in Orange County in 2009.

The winged, black-and-red bugs, distinguished by geometrical markings their backs, are about a third of an inch long. They're known to feed on the seeds of non-native weed plants such as knotweed and mallow, but it's unclear whether they might eat native plant seeds as well.

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The red bugs have also been found in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Riverside counties. But their increasing presence may not be cause for alarm. "They're not harmful to people. They're not harmful to pets and they can't bite," San Diego County entomologist Tracy Ellis said.

The bugs shouldn't be harmful to ornamental plants or gardens, according to Ellis. She said that since agricultural officials are still learning about the insects, they're interested in collecting samples.

"It looks a lot like a whole bunch of other bugs that are here in the county already," Ellis said. "So if somebody thinks they have red bug, they should check against a variety of bugs that we already have."

Information on submitting samples to San Diego County agricultural laboratories in Kearny Mesa and San Marcos is available online.

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
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