Potato Bug?

What are these things that Californians refer to with such horror? What we called “potato bugs” in the Midwest where I grew up were rather jolly striped beetles that were, of course, hated by gardeners but wouldn’t strike anyone else with fear. What is the proper name for the other type of potato bug and exactly how ugly is it? Does anyone have a picture?

When the date is Jan 1, 2000 all potatos will become poisonous and attack anyone from Idaho.

Well, shut my mouth. It’s also illegal to put squirrels down your pants for the purposes of gambling.

What we have here is failure to communicate. What you call a potato bug, Californians (and just about everybody else on the Left Coast) calls pill bugs, sow bugs, rollups or roly polies. This is what West Coasters call a potato bug:


It is also known as a Jerusalem Cricket, Stenopelmatus fuscus, and has mandibles that can pinch, though not as fearsome as it appears. When I was five, my older brother convinced me the bite of a potato bug was poisonous, and their only natural enemy was the black widow spider, who ate their brains. And we wonder how these UL’s get started…


“Believe those who seek the truth.
Doubt those who find it.” --Andre Gide

Thank you, Thuccotash. Pretty darn oogly, but not as bad as I imagined.

Actually, potato beetles are not the same as sow bugs/pill bugs, which we Midwesterners call by the same names. Potato beetles are actual beetles with a green, black, and orange striped shell, IIRC. They are about the size of a penny or a little smaller.

No idea what gets called a “potato bug” in California. Here in the Midwest, I’ve heard heard the dreaded Colorado Potato Beetle, (Leptinotarsa decemliniata Say, if you must know) called a “potato bug.” It’s a bit larger than the largest “lady bugs” is tannish with black vertical stripes on the wing casings, eats potato fields whole and uses insecticides as a mouthwash.

Yes, the Colorado beetle is the one I was thinking of. I misremembered the colors. It’s been a long time since I helped my grandmother pick potato bugs in her garden. Sigh.

Maybe us californians call it potato bug because it lives underground (I swear, i’ve dug holes in the back yard three feet down and had one crall out through a hole in the wall), so people thought they ate potatoes?

Anyway I really think those suckers are ugly. The biggest one i’ve seen was about an inch long with fierc mandibles. It can cut through pretty thick blades of grass. Those spiny feet arent pretty either.

I was at a page that describes them and here’s a reason why they’re probably called Potato Bugs:

“It’s powerful legs give it good digging power and the heavy mandibles are
effective for chewing roots and tubers (potato).”

Some alternate names:

Sand Cricket

Woh-tzi-Neh - Old Baldheaded Man

Niña de la Tierra - Child of the Earth

Oh and another site says it can give a painful bite, or jab with their stout leg spines. So, Californians, be careful if you handle one! They also seem to only live in sandy soils, and one of the sites that i’m on says some species in California are rare and on the brink of extinction, so dont kill them ;).

Also, many Calif. potato bugs are flesh colored (unlike the picture above), which really adds to their grossness. Another thing to keep in mind is that most of our native bugs don’t get that big, so a 1"-2" potato bug seems closer in size to a small bird than an insect.

I don’t know why they’re called potato bugs, but I vividly remember my first and only encounter with one. I was four years old, standing in my cousin’s Pasadena backyard. Suddenly, I felt something large and cold drop heavily on my head at a rapid rate of descent. I shrieked, flung whatever it was off my head, and ran. My uncle brought it inside, and determined that it was a “Potato Bug”. It was very huge, very repulsive, and very, very dead. He conjectured that the thing had been dropped by a bird in mid-flight. It was a great story to tell, but the dramatic effect was dampened by the fact that my friends all thought that the “Potato Bug” was the common Rolly-Polly bug, the least fearsome of all insects.
I’m guessing that this thread has something to do with the new Insect Ratings on brunching.com Or is it mere coincidence…?

My life has been a fascinating series of amazing exploits, about which I have many profound insights.-Calvin

You’re right. I was reading the brunching page and it reminded me that I had been wondering about potato bugs. I did a brief search and couldn’t find a picture, so I came here. The TM’s come through again.