“Stink Bug” Infestation Now a “Megapest” Epidemic

The Asian stink bug has become such a problem for farmers that news reports are referring to the small, smelly insect as a “megapest” as the vermin do untold amounts of damage to crops. From AFP:

A stink bug from Asia is chomping up US vegetable fields, orchards and vineyards, causing experts to scramble through an arsenal of weapons to try and halt this stealthy, smelly predator.

Pesticides, parasites and traps have all been tried but none have succeeded in killing off the brown marmorated stink bug, Halyomorpha halys, which first surfaced in the northeastern United States in 1996 and has since spread to 33 of the 50 states.

After having tried just about everything, farmer Bob Black said he sometimes resorts to a known weapon — his fist.

“I smash ’em, I am so mad at ’em,” he said. “The thing stinks, it’s terrible… they emit this defensive odor system and that is why nothing will eat them.”

Black, who runs Catoctin Mountain Orchard in Maryland, saw big damage to his fruit business last year and is trying to avoid more this year by allowing scientists to research the bugs on his land and by spraying more pesticides.

He rarely sees the insects themselves, leading him to believe they may siphon the life out of his fruit at night, like vampires.

“The way they feed with their hypodermic needle mouth is they pierce down into any product, skin or tree up to three-eighths of an inch (one centimeter) and suck the juices out so it becomes a dry area,” Black told AFP.

It’s hard to put a dollar figure on how much is at stake, or how much has been lost nationwide because the scourge is so new, experts say.

According to Black, some of his crops last year were cut by 15-20 percent. Others, like all of his nectarines, were donated to a food bank because they had stink bug damage — still edible but with bruises and dry patches. Shoppers only want to pay for perfect fruit, he said.

The stink bug can live off any one of 300 host plants, including grapes, peppers, apples, corn, and tomatoes.

Birds, bats, spiders, and praying mantises will eat them, but the stink bugs are so fertile that they can outbreed any potential villains, according to Tracy Leskey, a research entomologist at the US Department of Agriculture.

“A single female can lay on average about 200-250 eggs in her lifetime,” Leskey said. “Some females can lay up to 400 eggs.”

The bug likely made its way accidentally into the US in a shipment from Asia, and over the years has experienced a major population boom.

Luckily there are some organic methods of controlling these pests. Here’s a comment from someone who claims to control them with Dawn dish soap:

i live in southeast PA, where apparently they are the worst. most people I know either flush them or use a mix of dawn(the blue liquid dish soap) and water in a cheap spray bottle to kill them. The soap apparently breaks through protective oils on their body. I like the soap because it blocks their scent too.

I’m not sure it needs to be the blue – I have sometimes treated my plants with dish soap solution that is “citrus” based. Either way soap well diluted can be effective in control insects so give it a try.

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