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Stink Bug search

By Staff | Nov 12, 2010

(Submitted photo by Wil Hershberger) Shown above is an adult stink bug sitting atop an apple. Stink bugs have plagued the area this summer and have hidden in cars, homes, etc.

KEARNEYSVILLE Calling all stink bugs.

Tracy Leskey, an research entomologist at the USDA Appalachian Fruit Research Station, and a team of researchers are studying the brown marmorated stink bug population, the pests residents and growers of the Eastern Panhandle are used to, and they need homeowners’ help.

The work group is looking for people with an aggregation of stink bugs in their homes to help further their research efforts. Leskey and others are exploring their biological makeup, behavior and their effect on tree crops.

George Behling, owner of Nob Hill Orchards in Gerrardstown, has definitely experienced the effects of the infestation on his crops. Behling grows apples, peaches, plums, apricots, berries and tomatoes. Between the drought this past summer and the stink bugs, his crop was down 30 percent this past year.

“We noticed we really started seeing some significant damage, and this year it got worse and we expect it to keep getting worse,” he said.

Leskey said while the first species of brown marmorated stink bugs was not discovered in the Panhandle until 2004, it wasn’t until 2008 and 2009 that her office started hearing reports about serious damage to crops.

“But it wasn’t causing economic injury on crops, on tree fruits specifically,” Leskey said.

She said the first reports of “serious injury” first started coming in in late 2008. When more severe reports on fruit came in about a year ago, Leskey and a team of researchers at the USDA-ARS began studying the stink bugs’ biology and behavior and looked at ways for growers to monitor this behavior.

Leskey and others in the research group want to develop long-term solutions to dealing with the insects.

They have found that fruits, from apples and plums to tomatoes and berries like what Behling grows, attract the bugs.

“It’s really affecting my fresh apples that I take to two farmers markets in D.C. On the weekends,” Behling said.

Leskey said that the bugs inject their salivary enzymes into the fruit, which break down the plant cells and then the juice is sucked out of the fruit, leaving it unmarketable. She said some growers will lose an entire block of their crops; however, some damaged fruit can still go on for processing.

“There’s been a loss of crops, but there’s been this redirected market,” Leskey said.

She added, “I’ve been in tree fruit research for 15 years and I’ve never, never, never seen anything like it.”

Leskey said not only does this pest feed on so many natural plant species, but because it is not native to this area it originally comes from Asia there is nothing limiting its population right now.

“They complete two complete generations in a calendar year,” she said.

That is another charge of Leskey’s work group: trying to find a safe and effective way to reduce the brown marmorated stink bug population. Leskey said the strategy that she believes will offer the best solution is biological control, which means introducing a natural enemy that will feed on the stink bugs.

She said while there are some natural enemies in place, they aren’t very effective. One partner researcher in Newark, Del. has quarantined candidate wasps from Asia to see if they are specific to attacking the brown marmorated stink bug eggs.

But for the short term, growers can let the USDA-ARS know when the bugs are coming and feeding on crops. Then the researchers can help make more specific recommendations on how to deal better with them.

For residents, Leskey recommends vacuuming or flushing them or even setting out a jar of soapy water where they will get trapped and die. Then, of course, seal houses up well. She won’t make recommendations for insecticides because they are not effective because more will come back.

“Because of the behavior of this insect, it just doesn’t work well,” she said.

For more information about having a researcher collect stink bugs from your home, call 304-725-3451 ext. 417 or email Leskey at tracy.leskey@ars.usda.gov.