A New stink bug may be arriving in your garden and home this growing season!
Brian Biggins’ life stinks. The Maryland organic farmer’s land is suffering from an infestation of stink bugs, crop eating garden and farm pests emitting the odor of cilantro mixed with burned rubber and dirty socks.
They began destroying his fields of peppers and tomatoes in 2010. Now, they have invaded his home, where Biggins crushes them by hand and has trained his dog, Coadee, to eat them.
Still, thousands scurry across the floor of his farmhouse. Stink bugs, brown marmorated nemesis, infiltrated the US as cargo ship stowaways from Asia about 15 years ago and have proliferated in the past two years. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) says the immigrants have spread to 36 states; trade groups say they were responsible for $37 million of damage to apple crops alone in 2010.
“It’s not so much an evolution but a takeover,” according to Anne Nielsen, an entomologist recruited by Rutgers University in New Jersey specifically to study stink bugs, known to scientists as the Halyomorpha halys. The winged critters like to feast on crops in the spring and hibernate in warm homes in the winter. So the battle is on among both scientists and entrepreneurs to knock down the species.
This stink bug measures between half an inch and one inch long, with a speckled brown exoskeleton. Its colloquial name stems from the odor emitted from glands on its abdomen, a defense mechanism triggered by disturbances like predators or homeowners who stumble upon them in attics.
Scientists are more concerned with the bug’s appetite for crops than its smell. The insects are voracious vegetarians that forage on about 300 species of produce, trees and vegetation. An estimated $21 billion worth of crops are at risk where stink bugs have been detected.
In 2010, the bugs were particularly ruthless on apples in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, Seetin said.
There were fewer apple losses in 2011 because farmers better anticipated the bugs’ arrival and doused their crops with pesticides used on moths, according to Tracy Leskey, the USDA entomologist leading the government’s research effort. But the chemicals are effective only on bugs sprayed directly not the hordes that follow.
The long term goal is to cultivate a natural predator to the bugs. Spiders will eat stink bugs, but there is no American predator that relies on them as their main food source.
Researchers have hope for tiny parasitic wasps from Asia, which scientists are studying to see if they can be hungrily effective if introduced in the US. The wasps lay their eggs within the stink bugs’ own egg masses. When the wasp larvae hatch, they devour the stink bug eggs and kill them.
Researchers are now studying a colony at a USDA research unit but it will take several years to determine if they (parasitic wasp) are safe to release.
Why is common sense so uncommon?
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