Feds scramble to halt stink bug invasion

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Politics,Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets

The stink bug is back and in much bigger numbers than last year, giving fear to a potentially historic outbreak next year that has federal officials scrambling to deploy a killer that will stop the Chinese import's march into 38 states so far.

While last year's breakout was described as mild due to unfriendly weather, this fall's explosion of the brown marmorated stink bug is the second this year, a rare "second generation" of the bug that is now pouring into homes looking for a safe haven until they can emerge next spring to lay eggs.

"Populations have increased," Tracy Leskey, a lead research entomologist with the Agriculture Department, told Secrets. "This has been a very good year for the stink bug," added one of the nation's leading stink bug experts.

Orchard and vineyard farms and homeowners in the Washington region have reported massive numbers since last weekend. The bugs don't sting but do puncture fruits, making them quick to blemish and rot, and they often hide in cars, homes and even Craftsman sockets.

Leskey said that a strong fall second generation is a good indicator that next year's population will be even stronger. "A large population now means a potentially larger population will exit in the spring," she said. It's easy to see why: Each female stink bug carries 10 egg sacks with 28 eggs each.

But help might be on the way. Leskey and other researchers have expanded their list of potential killers to include baited traps and a native bug, the even uglier "wheelbug." Those are being studied at speeded up pace as a tiny wasp that is the stink bug's known killer in China.

"It will take multiple tactics" to stop the stink bug, said Leskey. But for now her advice to homeowners is a simple and smart one: "seal your homes."

Also to keep the public up to date on the fight against stink bugs, a research website has been created at http://www.stopbmsb.org.