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Researchers Rush to Stem Stink Bug Invasion

Stink bugs are back, searching for a winter hideaway after spending the summer eating and multiplying in droves. Their booming numbers are giving fear to a potentially historic outbreak next year that has federal officials scrambling to deploy a killer that will stop the Chinese import’s march into 38 states so far.

Research in New Jersey and elsewhere is seriously under way for methods to eliminate the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, which attacks a wide variety of crops before turning to its nuisance phase — overwintering in homes.

Last year’s breakout was described as mild due to unfriendly weather, but this fall’s explosion of the stink bug is the second this year, a rare “second generation” of the bug that is now pouring into homes looking for a safe haven until they can emerge next spring to lay eggs.

“Populations have increased,” Tracy Leskey, a lead research entomologist with the Agriculture Department, told Secrets. “This has been a very good year for the stink bug,” added one of the nation’s leading stink bug experts.

Orchard and vineyard farms and homeowners in the Washington region have reported massive numbers since last weekend. The bugs don’t sting but do puncture fruits, making them quick to blemish and rot, and they often hide in cars, homes and even Craftsman sockets.

The heaviest infestations remain in the Mid-Atlantic States, including New Jersey, where a great deal of research is under way for ways to keep them from dining on crops and out of homes, where they winter.

Mark Mayer, supervising entomologist at the state Department of Agriculture, said the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug is found in orchards “year-round” and tends to move into field crops from hedgerows. Mayer listed some of the many foods the bugs enjoy: fruit including peaches, apples, mulberries, citrus; beans, snap and soy; and ornamental plants. “Bite into an apple and find a number of rot-like lesions inside,” said Mayer, “and it may have been stink bugs earlier in the growing season, ruining marketability.”

Dr. George Hamilton, head of the Rutgers University department of entomology and an expert on this non-native species, said, the bugs’ diet includes crab apples, holly berries, redbud, the cones of hemlocks, maple seeds in fall. “If you cook up corn and notice black kernels,” he said, “that’s where the stink bug stuck its mouth parts in through the husk and sucked out” the juice inside. “Native stink bugs can’t do that.”

Hamilton said that farmers have “more options now than we did two years ago,” but it’s a double-edged sword. Certain sprays have been approved for use on Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs, he said, leading to “more spraying than in the past 10 to 15 years.”

That increases costs and has an environmental impact, including a side-effect of killing natural enemies of some other pests. Then, Hamilton said, “We may have to spray more for that; it’s why we didn’t use these things in the past.”

A strong fall second generation is a good indicator that next year’s population will be even more ferocious.

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