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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Do You Smell What's Cooking? The Stink Bug Invasion!




Feast your eyes on the brown marmorated stink bug (halyomorpha halys). Chances are you have already met the little creature and you didn't appreciate his odoriferous presence. The stink bug's ability to emit an odor through holes in its abdomen is a defense mechanism meant to prevent it from being eaten by birds and lizards.

However, when a human simply handles the ugly bug, injures it, or attempts to move it, the insect often releases the odor. The smell is most often described as similar to ammonia or cilantro, and sensitivity to the stench among people varies from unnoticeable to almost overpowering.

Up until several years ago I didn't really know what a stink bug was. I certainly never remember encountering them around my house in humongous numbers before then.

My wife hates the three-quarters-of-an-inch-long pests with a passion particularly because they produce that nasty odor and because they have a great propensity for entering the house. She attacks each stink bug she sees (usually with a fly swatter) and constantly complains about how many of the insects seem intent on making her life miserable. And, yes, they bite with their proboscis when you grab them with your hands. My spouse views swarming stink bugs as a plague of biblical proportions.

I honestly have chuckled about her obsession to destroy a swarm intent on living in the back yard. But, when they come indoors, I, too, become annoyed with these creepy crawlers. And enter indoors, they do. October seems to bring in the biggest swarms.

Why? Bill Todaro, an entomologist from the Allegheny County Health Department, says less daylight makes the bugs bug us. “Something goes off in their head,” Todaro contends. He says it's like a message that“I’ve got to seek shelter.” Their ticket to longevity is surviving the winter, so they fly to protective places.

Well, what better protective place than a home?  The bug survives the winter as an adult by entering houses and structures when autumn evenings become colder. Adults can live from several months to a year. They will enter under siding, into soffits, around window and through door frames, chimneys -- just about any space which has openings big enough to fit through. All it takes for the stink bug is a crack that is 1/16 of an inch, about the width of a piece of heavy paper.

Once inside the house, they go into a state of hibernation. They wait for winter to pass before reviving, but often the warmth inside the house causes them to become active, and they may fly clumsily around light fixtures, scaring the Hades out of us residents. 

Stink bugs don't pose any real health risks and do not lay eggs or feed indoors. However, if killed in large numbers, they can attract other pests, such as mice or other nasty insects that feed off of the carcasses. And, admittedly, scientists don't know a lot about the effects of swarms of these insects yet.

A recent Fox News report stresses the extent of the problem of stink buggery in faraway California: 

“There are reports of people using manure shovels and 5-gallon buckets to dispose of them,” said Chuck Ingels, farm advisor and interim county director with the University of California’s Agriculture and Natural Resources arm. Others employ vacuums to suck up swarms of the bugs. He continues, "This is the worst invasive pest we’ve ever had."



Where Did the Stinker Originate?

No wonder experiencing the bugs is relatively new -- it turns out the critters are a species of illegal aliens.

Evidence shows that the stinky nuisance somehow sneaked into the U.S. from Asia 15 years ago. Upon its entry into the States, the smelly pests, which can fly up to half a mile at a pop, began feasting on Cali grapes, apples, berries and other crops. It is now considered an agricultural pest, and by 2010-11, it had become a season-long pest in U.S. orchards. The invasive species also attacks tomatoes, soy beans, lima beans, and sweet corn.

"About anything that makes a seed or a fruit they'll eat," said Ames Herbert, an entomologist at Virginia Tech University who researches ways to protect Virginia's soy bean crop from the brown marmorated stink bug. 

These bugs are considered pests due to the fact that they feed on plant juices or fluids by sucking them, using their proboscis. By piercing the plant tissues, they allow pathogens such as bacteria and fungi to enter the plant via their damaged leaves or stems.

There are no comprehensive estimates on the economic damage caused by stink bugs, but an analysis by the U.S. Apple Association found that stink bugs cost Mid-Atlantic apple growers $37 million in 2010.

So, thanks partly to agribusiness, the stink bugs have taken over many places in America. Dr. Beth Grafton-Cardwell, who leads the Endemic and Invasive Pest and Disease initiative at the University of California, says, "Just take a look at the fruits in your fridge for a quick tour of South America."

Another factor in the spread of the stink bug is the increase in tourism.“It’s the size of the world population and how much travel is going on and movement of people and products,” Grafton-Cardwell told FoxNews.com.

Both the rise in international trade and the rise in tourism have brought with them foreign superpests with few known enemies. As of November 2011 the stink bug had spread to 34 U.S. states, and by 2012 to 40 states and showed an increase of 60% in total numbers over 2011 because in 2012, two full generations managed to reach maturity.

Since stink bugs have few natural predators to help decrease their numbers, they have become a real scourge. “Whenever you bring a pest over, they can explode, because there’s no parasites,” Ingels told FoxNews.com. He claims they’re trouble for farmers, but lately the bugs have really branched out, creeping into houses, breeding in sheds, and even finding homes in urban settings.


Praying Mantis munches on a stink bug.


The Invasion of 2013

While there isn’t as of yet enough information on this year’s stink bug invasion to determine how bad it is, officials have expected it to be among the worst ever because last year’s warm winter didn't kill many hibernating in homes, barns and sheds.

University of Maryland entomologist Mike Raupp said this will be “a big season.”

 (Jeremy A. Kaplan, "‘Superpests’ Swarming Across America,"  
FoxNew.com, September 25 2013)

What is the homeowner to do? Why not destroy the pest with chemicals? Think again. Abuse of pesticides and antibiotics have led to the rise of superweeds and superbugs -- a problem one researcher called “a slow-train wreck."

In some African countries like Botswana, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Venda, Zambia and South Africa, people tend to eat stink bugs while considering it a part of their culture. It seems unlikely American McBug restaurants will pop up to follow this trend of boiling and sun drying the insects for human consumption.

The Praying Mantis will slay and eat stink bugss. It starts by devouring the legs of the stink bug so it can't run away, then it completely eats the body. However, there aren’t enough Praying Mantis in the world to take care of the billions of stink bugs here in America.

And, one proposed solution sounds even worse than the stinky problem insects: Scientists aim to import another pest from Asia, a type of parasitic wasp that specifically targets the larva of the stink bug, laying its own eggs within them. Currently living in quarantine, the wasps may be released shortly. Asian wasps? Release another invasive species? Is this a good idea?

Scientists hope the coordinated research and surveillance efforts will help turn the tide against the stink bug. A private company has already isolated an important stink bug pheromone, which could revolutionize indoor trapping efforts.

In the meantime, a homeowner should seal his dwelling to prevent entry and to stop providing the insect with a cozy winter home. Glue traps also seem to work on a limited basis.

And, people must try to be calm in the midst of the stinky invasion. More trouble is on the horizon. Other insects seem determined to make our lives miserable. Following in the stink bug's footsteps is the kudzu bug. It started in Georgia and spread to Tennessee in 2012. The kudzu bug attacks bean crops and, like the stink bug, tries to spend the winter inside of homes.

The kudzu bug was first discovered in Georgia in 2009 in a handful of counties. Now, the bug is in nearly every Georgia county, all of South Carolina, and has spread through about half of North Carolina. It is quickly marching north.

Atlanta homeowner Michele Wright says, "My concern is that they will creep into the small crevices in the home and nest for the winter. That would just be horrible."

Wright used several applications of pesticides to kill off dozens of the multi-legged nuisances, but they were quickly replaced by dozens more.

"I couldn't sleep Saturday night," said Wright. "I had a few bug nightmares. It really does remind you of an Alfred Hitchcock movie."

My wife is really going to love the news of another buggy invader. It sounds as if she needs a bigger flyswatter ... make that industrial size, please.

“Insects -- all business all the time.” 

--David Foster Wallace, The Pale King


Here are a few ways to keep bugs at bay:
  • Clean up brush and keep mulch and firewood piles away from the house.
  • Seal up cracks and crevices with caulk, repair screens and don’t forget to check basement foundations for crumbling mortar.
  • Clean up cupboard shelves and seal up sugary foods that attract insects.
  • Create a barrier in doorways and around windowsills with crushed bay leaves, cinnamon and cloves to repel ants. Briscoe White, an herb expert and owner of The Growers Exchange, says they repel ants indoors and out. Have moth issues? Try peppermint and spearmint.
- See more at: http://www.hgtvgardens.com/animals-and-wildlife/stink-bug-invasion#sthash.i62r7D6q.dpuf
Here are a few ways to keep bugs at bay:
  • Clean up brush and keep mulch and firewood piles away from the house.
  • Seal up cracks and crevices with caulk, repair screens and don’t forget to check basement foundations for crumbling mortar.
  • Clean up cupboard shelves and seal up sugary foods that attract insects.
  • Create a barrier in doorways and around windowsills with crushed bay leaves, cinnamon and cloves to repel ants. Briscoe White, an herb expert and owner of The Growers Exchange, says they repel ants indoors and out. Have moth issues? Try peppermint and spearmint.
- See more at: http://www.hgtvgardens.com/animals-and-wildlife/stink-bug-invasion#sthash.i62r7D6q.dpuf

Here are a few ways to keep bugs at bay:
  • Clean up brush and keep mulch and firewood piles away from the house.
  • Seal up cracks and crevices with caulk, repair screens and don’t forget to check basement foundations for crumbling mortar.
  • Clean up cupboard shelves and seal up sugary foods that attract insects.
  • Create a barrier in doorways and around windowsills with crushed bay leaves, cinnamon and cloves to repel ants. Briscoe White, an herb expert and owner of The Growers Exchange, says they repel ants indoors and out. Have moth issues? Try peppermint and spearmint.
- See more at: http://www.hgtvgardens.com/animals-and-wildlife/stink-bug-invasion#sthash.i62r7D6q.dpuf
Create a barrier in doorways and around windowsills with crushed bay leaves, cinnamon and cloves to repel ants. Briscoe White, an herb expert and owner of The Growers Exchange, says they repel ants indoors and out. Have moth issues? Try peppermint and spearmint. - See more at: http://www.hgtvgardens.com/animals-and-wildlife/stink-bug-invasion#sthash.i62r7D6q.dpuf 
Danny Bonvissut
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