Working to stop stink bugs in their tracks

Ames Herbert

Ames Herbert, Extension entomologist, scouts for stink bugs in a soybean field in Tidewater, Va.

In the 13 years since the brown marmorated stink bug was discovered in Pennsylvania, the voracious insect has made a slow and steady march toward Virginia. It was found in the commonwealth in 2004, and it has caused millions of dollars in damage as it destroyed apples and grapes in the Shenandoah Valley, pierced soybeans in north-central fields, and sucked the proteins and carbohydrates out of corn, tomato, green bean, and pepper plants in other parts of the state.

Stink bugs were discovered in 20 counties in Virginia last year, and they are expected to continue to spread throughout the state, infecting more localities than ever before.

A team of Virginia Tech researchers is working to not only find a way to control the stink bug, but also to stop its spread in Virginia and farther south where it could continue its damaging rampage.

“It’s not pretty,” said Ames Herbert, professor of entomology and Virginia Cooperative Extension entomologist. “If they can make it to Coastal Virginia, they can make it anywhere in the Eastern United States.”

The stink bug’s appetite is as varied as it is voracious. “This is the one insect that has been all-encompassing in the sheer variety of plants it attacks,” said Virginia Tech Professor Tom Kuhar, Extension entomologist. “We have very few agricultural commodities that this bug does not attack.”

Virginia Tech researchers and Extension agents are working with farmers and scientists around the Mid-Atlantic States to monitor the spread of stink bugs and share ideas on how to minimize their damage.

“We are putting lots of resources into going deeper into this and trying to learn how to manage this pest,” Herbert said.

At the Alson H. Smith Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Winchester, Professor Chris Bergh, Extension entomologist, helped develop a weapon in the fight against the stink bug. Bergh researched the insecticide dinotefuran to determine its effectiveness. When he established it was a good tool, he worked to get it into the hands of farmers.

In 2011, he spearheaded a multi-state effort to get an emergency exemption of dinotefuran from the Environmental Protection Agency. He successfully applied for permit extensions in subsequent years so farmers could fight off the pest — and hold on to their profits.

“This pest can wreak havoc on farmers and severely affect their bottom line,” Bergh said. “We want to find as many weapons as possible to assist farmers in this battle against the stink bug.”

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