The brown marmorated stink bug is a well-traveled, if unwelcome hitchhiker that crossed continents from its native Asia to reach North America about 15 years ago.
Now that it’s here, the invasive pests are a threat to farmers growing high-value fruits and vegetables across the United States, including the Pacific Northwest. Researchers with Oregon State University recently found the insects crawling in Hermiston catalpa trees, raising concern about potential agricultural losses.
OSU is one of 10 universities, along with the federal Agricultural Research Service, studying ways to better monitor and control damaging stink bugs. Infestations can shrivel berries and hazelnuts, and their odor can even taint the flavor of grapes crushed into local wines.
Silvia Rondon, entomologist with the local Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center, discussed their project during a presentation on the final day of the 40th annual Hermiston Farm Fair Seminars and Trade Show.
Oregon is lucky to be part of the program, Rondon said, as scientists are learning more about the stink bugs before they can become a bigger problem in the region. Commercial damages were already reported in neighboring Washington state for the first time in 2013.
“We want people to be alert,” Rondon said. “So far, we haven’t found any in field crops around our area.”
Using their straw-like mouths, the pesky stink bugs feed by biting into plants and sucking out their juices. The process causes dimpling on the surface of fruits and vegetables, while rotting the flesh inside.
Brown marmorated stink bugs are believed to have been accidentally introduced to the U.S. from China or Japan, hitching a ride overseas in shipping crates. The first documented discovery was in Pennsylvania in 1998, and the insects have since spread to 34 states.
First spotted in Portland in 2004, the pests are now spreading into Eastern Oregon. Sightings are on the rise, Rondon said, though the majority have been found to be other species of stink bugs native to the area.
The brown marmorated stink bug can be identified by its shield-shaped body, striped antennae and banding pattern on the abdomen. Rondon compared the insect’s odor to cilantro.
More than 300 sightings of the stink bugs were reported in the region in 2012, Rondon said. Of those, fewer than 20 were actually confirmed.
“There are many stink bug species out there in the crops that we deal with,” she said.
Test sites are set up to determine whether the insects can survive the winter, Rondon said. Other methods of biological control are under consideration, such as introducing tiny parasitic wasps that lay their eggs inside the eggs of the stink bug.
“I think (that) is a very promising direction for our program,” Rondon said.
Sessions focusing on pests and pesticides wrapped up the three-day farm fair, which Hermiston station director Phil Hamm said drew approximately 500-600 people. Attendance has grown steadily since the event began, Hamm said, and continues to provide an opportunity for producers to learn more about efforts that could make them more profitable.
“We hope they walk away with more information from our experts than they had before,” Hamm said.
Contact George Plaven at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-564-4547.
This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.