Extinguishing Stink Bugs

The brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) devastated crops in mid-Atlantic states in 2010.

Image Credit: Gary Bernon, USDA APHIS

September 18, 2012 Sara Gavin

Researchers with the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (AGNR) and College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences (CMNS) are part of a multi-state team planning a strategic defense against the invasive and destructive brown marmorated stink bug, known as the BMSB. Their findings regarding this particularly pungent pest that caused a catastrophic loss of crops throughout most mid-Atlantic states in 2010, are now being made available online.

Cerruti Hooks, an integrated pest management and biological control specialist for University of Maryland Extension (UME) and entomology professor, is serving as one of 11 co-directors for the project, which is funded through the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Specialty Crop Research Initiative. In total, more than 50 researchers are involved from ten institutions across the United States, including 18 from the University of Maryland. Their goal is to study and monitor the BMSB and its natural enemies (predators and parasitic wasps) from all angles in order to develop a strategy to minimize its impact on crops and farmers’ livelihoods.

The Invasion

The BMSB was accidentally imported from Asia to North America in the late 1990s and with few known natural enemies in this country, quickly became a nuisance inside homes, office buildings and warehouses. Although the insect doesn’t bite humans, it lays hundreds of eggs during its lifetime and is particularly dangerous because of the fact that it will feed on almost anything. Researchers have identified more than 300 plant species that are susceptible to the BMSB. “It can just move from forest to fruit to vegetable to field crops, even corn. It loves sweet corn,” said Hooks, Ph.D.

The invader caused the most significant damage in 2010, with some growers of sweet corn, peppers, tomatoes, apples, and peaches reporting total crop losses that year - organic growers among the hardest hit.

Under Control?

In 2011 and so far in 2012, reported numbers of the BMSB in Maryland have been comparatively low, Hooks said, but some Western areas of the state and pockets of Howard County are still dealing with heavy volumes. Researchers aren’t yet sure whether the drought and extremely hot summer temperatures are affecting the BMSB population or if natural enemies are finally adapting to the new species.

Still, Hooks says it’s too early to call the pest “controlled” and that Maryland could possibly see a spike during the fall harvest. “They may try to get that last feeding in before turning in for the winter,” he said.

And make no mistake— while the BMSB may not be as noticeable as it was two years ago, it is by no means extinct and homeowners should expect to see the smelly suckers sneaking their way inside as the weather turns colder. (For tips on how to keep them out, check out this video provided by UME’s Mike Raupp, a.k.a. “The Bug Guy.”)

As for the future of the BMSB in Maryland and across the country, Hooks was told by one of his colleagues outside of UMD that these kinds of BMSB infestations occur every three years— meaning the next big BMSB invasion could be coming in 2013. “We’ll see what happens,” he said.

The USDA-funded BMSB research project will continue for at least another year. Updated findings will be posted to the group’s website at www.stopbmsb.org.

For more information, contact Sara Gavin at 301-405-9235 or sgavin@umd.edu.