A destructive pest that was first confirmed in Iowa last year has spread to at least 40 states. U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers are trying to learn how they can minimize damage the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) can do to various crops. Don Weber is a USDA entomologist.
“It attacks various vegetable, fruit and field crops, so apples, pears and peaches it’s definitely on, especially as they’re maturing,” Weber says. “A lot of times that damage is hidden until you cut open the fruit, which is very unfortunate. It can affect soybeans as well…and tomatoes and peppers.”
The stink bug can also known to attack a popular summertime favorite in Iowa — sweet corn. Weber, working at a USDA facility near Washington D.C., is trapping stink bugs to study their attractants or pheromones. “We could use this as a management tool to monitor, to make sure we know where the pest is, and how high the numbers are, so we know what we might do about it, but also potentially to use it to trap it out of the crop or near houses where we don’t want it to be,” Weber says.
The brown marmorated stink bug came to the U.S. about 15 years ago from Asia, so Weber says researchers are looking THERE for natural predators. “And they’re mainly these tiny wasps, egg parasitoids, they’re harmless, they don’t sting. Their main objective in life is to find stink bug eggs and to make sure it doesn’t end up a stink bug, it ends up a wasp,” Weber says.
In addition to their destructive behavior, the stink bug – as you might expect – has a foul odor. Weber, however, doesn’t find it all that offensive. “The stink of the stink bug is fairly similar to cilantro,” Weber says. “That doesn’t mean necessarily you’d want to eat it and I’m sure that’s repulsive to the predators that it’s trying to repel.”
The first breeding infestations of brown marmorated stink bugs were confirmed in October 2012 in Scott County. Stink bugs have been an especially big problem in mid-Atlantic states — causing $52 million worth of damage last year to peach and apple crops there.