Stink bugs migrating to the Deep South

03-16-2012 // Darryl Fears

This excerpt is from the Washington Post

On the front line of the brown marmorated stink bug invasion, Doug Inkley was overrun. Over nine months last year, he counted, bug by bug, 56,205 in his house and garden. They were everywhere.

“I literally have made homemade chili and had to throw it out because there were stink bugs in it,” said Inkley, who lives in Knoxville, Md., near the West Virginia border. “I have had people refuse to come over for dinner because they knew about my stink bug problem.”

Maybe now, they’ll come over. Entomologists say the population of this invasive species from Asia appears to have cratered in the Mid-Atlantic. Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee caused flooding, drowning stink bugs and snuffing out nymphs before they could develop.

But there is also bad news. The bugs have marched to the Deep South. Recently they were detected in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, where farmers grow juicy vegetable and citrus crops the bugs are known to destroy.

It gets worse. Another type of Asian stink bug has established itself in Georgia. It eats invasive Asian kudzu, a good thing. But the kudzu bug also eats soybeans and other lucrative Georgia legumes.

On a working trip to Atlanta last week, Inkley, a senior scientist for the National Wildlife Federation, saw them flying about, attaching to walls by the hundreds.

“Here we go again,” he said.

Stink bugs come in a wide variety. Many are native to the United States, where prey insects keep them in check. Brown marmorated stink bugs native to China were first discovered in Allentown, Pa., in 1998, likely after crawling out of a cargo ship.

Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland, especially where Inkley lives, were particularly hard hit, for reasons entomologists have not figured out.

So far, the pest has been detected or established in the District and 36 states, a dozen more than last year. Detected means that they’ve been observed and confirmed through lab testing, as opposed to established, which means that they have slipped into homes by the hundreds and ravaged food crops by the thousands.

In the Mid-Atlantic region, where brown marmorated stink bugs are well established, they caused an estimated $37 million in damage in apple crops alone in 2010, the most recent year for which data are available. Some farmers in Maryland said they ruined a third of their peach crop and half of their raspberries last year.

That’s nothing compared with what the warmth-loving bug might do in the Sunshine State, said Douglas G. Luster, research leader for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service. “It could be like the atomic bomb going off,” he said in an interview last year, implying that the population might explode.

“There is great fear that if the brown marmorated stink bug gets established in Florida, it will do a lot of damage,” Denise Feiber, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said Thursday.

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