News / Science & Technology

    Spread of Asian Stink Bug Threatens US Crops

    Invasive stink bug on an olive branch in Oregon's Willamette Valley. (Vaughn Walton, OSU)
    Invasive stink bug on an olive branch in Oregon's Willamette Valley. (Vaughn Walton, OSU)
    Tom Banse
    A smelly invasive bug continues to spread across the United States, alarming both farmers and scientists.

    The name of this insect is a mouthful: the brown marmorated stink bug. Native to East Asia, the insect is causing crop losses from coast to coast in America.  Researchers are working on control measures, but some of those come with their own worries.  

    One way scientists are following the spread of the brown marmorated stink bug is by setting traps. There are four traps at the edge of a blueberry field at Oregon State University's North Willamette research farm.

    OSU entomologist Vaughn Walton points to a brown bug with a body shaped like a medieval shield and distinctive white stripes on its antennae. It's about the size of the fingernail on your ring finger.

    It's called a stink bug for good reason. Many people say it's like a cilantro flavor," said Walton. "Some of the people in my lab used to like cilantro. Now they hate cilantro."

    The brown marmorated stink bug is 1-2 centimeters in length (VOA/T. Banse)The brown marmorated stink bug is 1-2 centimeters in length (VOA/T. Banse)
    x
    The brown marmorated stink bug is 1-2 centimeters in length (VOA/T. Banse)
    The brown marmorated stink bug is 1-2 centimeters in length (VOA/T. Banse)
    Here's why this bug invasion raises alarms. A stink bug can transmit that flavor into berries and fruit when it feeds. It can hide in wine grape clusters and then taint the juice when the grapes are crushed. 

    Early season attacks cause berries and nuts to shrivel. Stink bug bites leave blemishes on vegetables. U.S. Department of Agriculture research entomologist Tracy Leskey, who works on fruit trees in West Virginia, says the greatest crop damage has been reported in the mid-Atlantic region.

    "Left untreated it would be a substantial loss," Leskey said. "In places where we are not controlling the insect for experimental purposes, we easily see 100 percent injury in those fruit."

    North America has more than 200 native stink bug species, but farmers don't worry about most of them. They are focused on the more voracious variety that comes from East Asia.  Scientists first detected it in the United States in Pennsylvania, in the late 1990's. 

    Vaughn Walton says the invasive species has multiplied and spread in all directions from there. "They are really good hitchhikers. They move on cars, on cargo, on trains and stuff like that."

    The Asian stink bug has now been detected in 40 U.S. states and several Canadian provinces.

    Back in Oregon's Willamette Valley, the bug is showing up in commercial crops for the first time this year.

    "Hopefully we'll learn how to control this pest," said farmer Michelle Armstrong, who grows sweet corn and vegetables. "We definitely see it as a major threat."

    The U.S. Agriculture Department is funding a number of university studies looking into control measures, but Armstrong says nothing has come on the market yet that specifically targets the brown marmorated stink bug.

    "That's part of the worries for the growers," she said. "As a grower myself, what will I do when this pest gets in my field? I don't have a lot of options. We don't want to spray more than we have to."

    Powerful insecticides do kill the bug, but also take out beneficial insects farmers want to keep around. So other options are getting a look. One is mass trapping using pheromone lures. The Oregon State science team says the long term solution probably involves bringing in the stink bug's natural predators which exist in East Asia.

    "There's a wide range of parasitoids and predators from there," Walton said. "We've imported them. They're in quarantine. You can't release them because they can potentially affect other good bugs that we don't want to be affected."

    The Agriculture Department says it will take several more years of research before scientists are more certain there won't be unintended consequences from introducing another non-native species onto U.S. farms.

    You May Like

    Pentagon: Afghan Hospital Bombing Not a War Crime

    US Central Command's Joseph Votel says probe found tragedy was result of 'extraordinarily intense situation' that included multiple equipment failures

    US Minorities Link Guns with Other Social Ills

    New study finds reduction in gun violence could help lower America’s incarceration rate – the world’s highest - and improve relationships between police, citizens in minority communities

    US Millennials Beat Baby Boomers as Largest Living Generation

    America's young people are about to take over and here's what we can expect from them

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: unknown from: United States
    November 15, 2013 1:43 PM
    I saw these at a customers house I was at. They had a lot of these things. They had 37 windows in the house and those bugs kept falling from the windows when I had to open each window.

    by: Markt from: Virginia
    November 13, 2013 9:56 PM
    I hate those bugs. They have been around my house now for over two years when before I had not seen a single one, now I get several in the house throughout the summer. I used to smack them with a fly swatter, but they left a major stink that would take hours to clear out (just squashing one, that is). Now I have to capture them in a paper towel and crush them, then throw them into the trash. It lessens the smell considerably, but they are still a menace and I hate seeing them in the house, but there is no way to keep them out. Invasive, is right...I'm glad its now winter and cold outside, no bugs in the house now, but I dread the coming spring and summer when they come back
    In Response

    by: Fritz Wilhelm from: Corvallis
    November 14, 2013 4:37 PM
    Dust Buster. Seriously. These insects can't adapt to being vacuumed up and bagged. I attached a 1" PVC pipe to a shop vac with a brush on the end and took care of a major infestation of Box Elder Bugs many years ago. This will work with any swarming insect that has formed a colony. Drop the bag in water or a container with an introduced high carbon dioxide atmosphere. You can do this by dumping the bag of bugs into a bucket with a glass of water. Put some alka seltzer in the water and close the lid. Killing them is better because they can escape from a paper or plastic bag.

    Good luck,
    Fritz

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkey Islamists

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora