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Stink bug invasion starts, could be worst ever

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

The annual home invasion of the Asian stink bug, now in 43 states, has started, and experts on the pest that spends its summers destroying fruits and vegetables before seeking warmth to live out the winter said this year could be the worst ever.

“The great stink bug march has begun,” said Tracy Leskey, the nation's expert on the brown marmorated stink bug for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “We are definitely seeing them show up,” she told Secrets.

To help find a way to kill the bugs, Leskey has inaugurated a “citizen scientists” project to enlist homeowners to count how many stink bugs are on their house during the peak month of movement, Sept. 15-Oct. 15. She hopes the project will provide enough data to help speed the development of a trap in time to distribute next year.

But in the meantime, Leskey told Secrets that she’s discovered one ready-made stink bug killer: the praying mantis. She said one praying mantis she witnessed started with the legs of the stink bug “so it couldn’t run away,” then completely ate the body.

However, there aren’t enough praying mantises in the world to take care of the billions of stink bugs.

While there isn’t enough information on this year’s stink bug invasion to determine how bad it is, officials have expected it to be among the worst ever because last year’s warm winter didn't kill many hibernating in homes, barns and sheds.

University of Maryland entomologist Mike Raupp said this will be “a big season.”

Leskey said that the movement of the bugs from fields to homes is triggered by daylight and temperature. The peak movement day is Oct. 5 when houses in the stink bug belt can be covered by the pests that are looking for places to squeeze in and over-winter.

Her “Stop Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs” project has been embraced by people from Ohio to Tennessee. She said with the daily bug counts people are taking, she hopes that “at the very least we're going to be able to map where the hotspots are and where the cold spots are.” She added that the project will factor in other details, such as the color of homes, the elevation and nearby vegetation in developing a stink bug killer.

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