Stink-bug infestation is topic of Wednesday talk

February 07, 2011|By RICHARD F. BELISLE |
  • Tracy Leskey, an entomologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Appalachian Fruit Research Station in Kearneysville, W.Va., is an expert on stink bugs.
By Richard F. Belisle/Staff Writer

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — They’ve become so pervasive that some people might believe the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse have riding companions.

Entomologists call the insects by their acronym, BMSB. Most of us know them simply as “stink bugs.”

The brown marmorated stink bug is showing up everywhere, in living rooms and basements, under rocks, behind tree bark, under the snowblower that sat idle since summer. More importantly, they are voraciously destroying crops, including kitchen gardens, orchards, and acres of corn and soybeans.

“We’re dealing with a tsunami of stink bugs,” said Tracy Leskey, an entomologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Appalachian Fruit Research Station in Kearneysville, W.Va.

Leskey is among a trove of scientists working in government, private and university labs seeking ways to control the bugs.

She will give a presentation on stink bugs and their infestation in the Byrd Auditorium at the National Conservation Training Center at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Admission to the program is free. It’s co-sponsored by the Potomac Valley Audubon Society.

Stink bugs are native to China, Korea, Japan and Taiwan. Scientists believe they migrated to the United States, initially to the mid-Atlantic states, about a decade ago.

“Stink bugs are excellent hitchhikers,” Leskey said.

The region has been on the front lines in the fight to control the stink-bug invasion since the first one was discovered in Allentown, Pa., in 2001. A second was seen in New Jersey in 2002. Leskey said she discovered Maryland’s first stink bug on Oct. 8, 2003.

“It was majestically poised on a Shell gasoline pump in Hagerstown,” she said.

Stink bugs have now been officially detected in 29 states and the District of Columbia.

“I have no problem personally with stink bugs as insects, but I do with their impact on crops like tree fruit, like apples and peaches and small fruit-like berries and grapes. They eat tomatoes and peppers, corn and soybeans, plus ornamentals,” Leskey said in an interview Monday in her office, which she calls “stink-bug central.”

Stink bugs are not a problem in their native land, where they have “natural enemies which didn’t come here with them,” Leskey said.

Each year, stink bugs raise two generations, which is one reason why they are spreading beyond efforts to control them, she said.

“There’s a lot of research being done on them, but there’s a tremendous amount about their basic biology and behavior that we don’t know,” Leskey said.

About 20 species of stink bugs are native to America, but none are harmful like the brown marmorated stink bug, she said.

Scientists are working on several projects that might lead to the development of natural enemies to control the Asian species while not harming native ones, Leskey said. None is especially nice.

One is a fly that lays eggs in adult stink bugs. Its young then eat it from the inside out.

A second experiment is the development of a tiny parasitic wasp that lays its eggs in the eggs of stink bugs.

Researchers are also studying fungi, bacterium and viruses as possibilities.

Leskey’s lab is a leader in the research effort.

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