New bug threat substantial
Non-native insect affecting fruit crops and silage
By MITCH LIES
PORTLAND -- Peter Shearer, now at Oregon State University, first encountered the brown marmorated stink bug in 2002, while an entomologist at Rutgers University.
"It was obvious when I saw my first group of them that it was going to be a major problem" Shearer said.
The bug was relatively new to the U.S. at that time. Native to Asia, it was first observed in the U.S. in 1996 in Allentown, Pa. Three years later, scientists had identified it as the brown marmorated stink bug.
Today the brown stink bug is responsible for dramatic crop losses in tree fruits throughout the mid-Atlantic states, and has been found in 27 states.
Pennsylvania State University entomologist Greg Krawczyk said recently he believes up to 50 percent of some tree fruits in the mid-Atlantic region will need to be treated for the bug in 2011.
The bug also recently has been getting into silage, triggering fears that it may get into the diet of dairy cows and, subsequently, into milk products.
"This has potential to be a national catastrophe," Shearer said.
Today entomologists believe it is building up to treatable levels in Oregon.
The stink bug causes browning or corking on fruit through feeding on the crop. It also can show up in storage, creating chunky brown spots on fruit that went into storage looking fine.
A single brown marmorated stink bug was found in Oregon in 2004. Since first showing up in the Portland area, the bug has made its way south into the heart of the Willamette Valley and east as far as Arlington. It also has been found in Vancouver, Wash.
A recent $10 million grant issued to 52 researchers across several states is expected to help scientists learn how to control the bug.
"We're going to try to find some good solutions. We haven't found them yet," Shearer said.
Currently, growers are using new-generation pyrethroids, Shearer said. The broad-spectrum insecticides are disrupting integrated pest management programs, but, Shearer said, when faced with the alternatives, growers have little option but to apply them.
Among options the scientists are studying is introducing some of the bugs' natural enemies in the U.S.
Scientists also hope to find chemical controls that are more pest specific than pyrethroids.
The good news is the bug has been found in the White House, Shearer said: It has the attention of the president.