The brown marmorated stink bug, even with its body odor and huge mouth, doesn’t look especially dangerous. But the insect has a modus operandi that is difficult to overlook.
The exotic pests use their piercing, straw-like mouths to efficiently suck out the innards of fruit, vegetables and leaves. They have ravaged orchards and field crops in places such as New York and Ohio.
The stink bug was discovered recently in a Hermiston catalpa tree.
Silvia Rondon, an entomologist at the Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center, said the pest’s appearance in Northeastern Oregon surprises and concerns her.
“They’ve caused millions of dollars of damage on the East Coast,” she said. “In Oregon, we’re worried about crops such as hazelnuts and grapes.”
And not only those crops. Rondon said the stink bug’s appetite is eclectic. English holly is a favorite food, but “you name it, they like it: apples, pears, peaches, cherries, berries, grapes, corn, beans, peppers, tomatoes … the list goes on.”
She stood at the base of the catalpa tree at Southwest Fourth and Newport. Biotechnician Carol Miller clutched a wooden broomstick and a stiff piece of white canvas called a “beat sheet.” She knocked the broomstick against some leaves and stepped back.
The stink bugs rained down.
About a dozen of the brown, pumpkin seed-shaped creatures scurried around the canvas. Rondon flipped one of the oily insects onto its back and pointed to the slit that ran half the length of its abdomen.
“That’s his mouth,” she said. She also indicated the bug’s spotted antennae and mottled shield-like body with striped edging.
The Oregon State University scientists are part of a national effort to control the stink bugs and provide tools for growers to control the pests. Pesticides haven’t worked well, so researchers are looking for biological solutions and are considering some imaginative biological possibilities, including the use of parasitic wasps. The tiny wasps lay their eggs inside the eggs of the stink bug, destroying them.
OSU researcher Nick Wiman discovered the Hermiston stink bugs on Sept. 20 during a gathering of OSU entomologists. He alerted Rondon about the finding. Wiman, based in Corvallis, travels around the state searching for the exotic pest. His tools are low-tech — a wooden pole and a beat sheet to catch falling bugs he knocks loose. He also lures the bugs into traps.
Last year, Hermiston researchers set traps around the area but came up negative.
Rondon said the flat-shelled insect originated in Asia (China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan) and started wreaking havoc in the early 2000s on the East Coast after first appearing in Pennsylvania in 1998.
“The first people to notice were homeowners,” Rondon said. “They complained about swarms of these insects trying to get inside their houses. When the weather cools, they like to go inside dead trees and houses to keep warm.”
This fall, some Portland homeowners have reported huge groups of stink bugs clinging to their houses.
After Winan’s discovery in September, Rondon’s crew collected about 50 or so of the bugs for study in OSU’s Hermiston entomology lab, which now smells like rotting cilantro at times thanks to the new exotic pests. The researchers will also watch the bugs in their natural habitat to see what happens when winter arrives.
Rondon said stink bugs were first detected at the Portland International Airport a couple of years ago in some traps Wiman placed there. Finding them at an airport wasn’t a shock.
“That’s what usually happens when a new pest arrives,” Rondon said. “They are hitchhikers.”
Starting in 2010, the OSU scientists used grant money to search for the bugs outside urban Portland and tracked their spread throughout the Willamette Valley, the Columbia River Gorge and now to Hermiston.
Rondon said OSU researchers will soon start testing in the Pendleton area. She urged anyone who observes the stink bug to call her at the extension center.
Contact Kathy Aney at email@example.com or 541-966-0810.
This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.