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Feds build citizen army to 'attract and annihilate' stink bugs; 100,000 found in a shed

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Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,Environment,Government,Energy and Environment,Insects

With just three weeks to go before the start of the stink bug season spreading over 40 states, the federal government is calling out for help from "citizen scientists" to speed its decade-long campaign to find a killer for the smelly Asian bug that threatens to damage $21 billion in crops like apples and tomatoes.

The Agriculture Department's top researcher of the brown marmorated stink bug told Secrets that the feds want homeowners in the stink bug belt to count the pests on their houses every day from September 15-October 15 and detail the surroundings and even color of their siding.

"If we understand more about that, then maybe we can manipulate their behavior a little bit more," said Ag's Tracy Leskey, who heads the "Stop BMSB" project, and will collect the information.

She said the goal is to come up with a lure for farmers and homeowners to draw the stinkbugs to a death bait.

"If we can understand that," she said of what attracts the pests, "then we can think about ways to attract them to a particular location and annihilate them." Leskey called it an "attract and kill" plan.

As an example, Leskey said that her team went to a farm in Virginia last year to observe the stink bug population. In just one shed they estimated a population of 100,000. Prompted by the shocking sight, the team is exploring why the bugs selected that shed instead of others.

Leskey said that the annual march of the stink bug to homes peaks on October 5. She said that the cool and wet summer is delaying their development and keeping them in gardens, fields and woods. But they will soon be carpeting homes looking for winter sleeping areas such as underneath plastic siding.

"When they land on your house, they are looking for a place to over-Winter, so we want to see where they land," she said. "That is the source population for next season," said Leskey, adding: "Why one house may be more attractive than another to the stink bug is what we are trying to understand."

This fall could be among the worst: last year's warm winter didn't inflict a strong enough killer cold on the bugs and many more than normal survived to lay eggs.

The citizen army is just one of the ideas the government is using to develop a stink bug solution. They are still studying other pets, including a tiny Asian wasp, that feeds on stink bug eggs.

Paul Bedard, The Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.