NATION

Stinkbugs enjoy an invasive tree - and hitchhiking

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STAUNTON, Va. (AP) - Area farmers should be worried about invasive stink bugs destroying crops and fruit, but they don't have to wait until next summer to address the problem, experts say.

The thumbnail-sized insects, originally from Japan, Korea and China, like an invasive tree - sometimes called a stinktree or Tree of Heaven - and farmers seeking to get rid of the smelly bugs should think about getting rid of the not-so-heavenly smelling tree.

Stink bugs, first identified in the United States in Allentown, Pa., in 2001, heavily infested some Shenandoah Valley soybean crops for the first time this past summer, according to a Virginia Tech report.

Augusta County, in particular, was one of three counties in the Valley found to have the shield-shaped bugs in high enough concentrations to be considered a significant economic threat, along with Frederick and Clarke counties.

"The risk for economic damage is there," said Dr. Ames Herbert, an extension entomologist with Virginia Tech.

"But," he cautioned, "There are certainly fields in (Augusta) County that had no (stink) bugs."

The bugs have spread to at least 30 states and have gone as far as California, but they don't spread rapidly on their own, Herbert said. They catch rides on vehicles.

"They call it the interstate bug," Herbert said. "Most of the infestation has been in the mid-Atlantic states, including parts of Virginia, but they've reported some pretty high numbers in Washington and Oregon."
Once established, a population can balloon quickly because of a lack of natural predators.

"In Maryland they had low numbers in 2009, and then in 2010 they found large infestations on field edges," Herbert said. "The same pattern has occurred for us.

"In 2010 we found a few, and then this summer we found several fields with very high numbers."

This particularly variety of stink bug is called the brown marmorated stink bug and can be distinguished from its native cousins by white color bands along the antennae and the outer part of the thorax. Also unlike native stink bugs, they overwinter inside, invading houses and office buildings in the fall, and emerge in the spring ready to devour just about any fruit or vegetable they can find.

"They like a hell of a lot of things," Herbert said. "It has an extremely large variety of hosts - corn, tomatoes, peppers, peaches, nuts, you name it. Even grain. We are concerned about what it will do when it's introduced to our wheat crop."

Farmers worried about the pest are not helpless, however, and they won't even have to wait until next summer to start working on eradicating the pests. They can start with one of their favorite habitats right now.

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