Stink bugs invade Europe; France, Italy hit

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

Stink bug infestations have spread to 41 states and Europe's farm basket, having lived through the super-cold and snowy winter by making their own anti-freeze, according to the Agriculture Department's top brown marmorated stink bug watcher.

“We are not seeing any difference in the mortality rates” because of the cold, said Tracy Leskey, the department's research entomologist in charge of the “Stop BMSP” project. “We haven't seen any effect so far,” she added.

Typically, half of the stink bug populations she monitors die every winter, regardless of the weather, and that’s exactly what happened this winter. To stay alive, Leskey told Secrets, they make their own internal antifreeze, seek out protection such as hiding under the siding of houses and go into hibernation.

Once just a problem in mid-Atlantic states, they have now expanded into 41 states, with Hawaii and Arkansas being the most recent additions to the U.S. stink bug map.

And the dime-sized bugs, which hitched a ride from China to Pennsylvania over a decade ago, have shown up in France, Italy and Switzerland, she added. Secrets recently reported that a shipment of tile from Italy was set aside when it arrived in Baltimore carrying a stink bug.

Leskey said that the bug “has potential to show up anywhere,” but might not be able to survive if there isn't food to eat, such as fruits and grains, and humid conditions. “The bug can be transported, but when it arrives at a new location you need the host plants” and favorable weather, said Leskey, who calls herself a “bug wrangler” on her Twitter page.

The pest, which emits a scent similar to cilantro, will start moving out of over-wintering sites next month and head for fields, woods and orchards to lay eggs. In mid-September, the fully-grown stink bugs will then invade houses, barns and sheds looking for a winter home.

Officials have not seized on a single killer of the bug but are hopeful of finding a natural foe, such as a plant or predator bug, to control further expansion of stink bug populations.

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