Stink bugs spread to 39 states, pest population soars 60 percent

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Politics,Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets

The crop-killing, home-invading Asian stink bug has spread to 39 states, Washington, D.C., and Canada, and the government's battle with the pest could get worse: Reinforcements in the form of a new stink bug species are arriving from Italy.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents discovered the Italian stink bug hitching a ride in a load of ceramic tile shipped into the Port of Baltimore last week. Spokesman Robert Hunt told Secrets that "it is a different species of stink bug" than the Asian version that landed on U.S. shores about 15 years ago.

"You could characterize this bug as a hitchhiker in the shipment of tiles from Italy," he said. "A thorough hands-on inspection resulted in the find," he added of the April 8 discovery. The shipment was fumigated.

But as millions of Americans have discovered while dealing with the Asian brown marmorated stink bug, where there's one there's 100.

And they spread fast. While once just in six mid-Atlantic states and the District, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has revealed that they have now been found in 33 more states and Ontario. New research adds that stink bugs can fly up to two kilometers a day.

Federal officials are suggesting that the stink bug population could be much worse this year as home pests and further hurting fruit, vegetable, and wine producers. Tracy Leskey, one of USDA's stink bug experts, told Secrets that the numbers of adults overwintering increased 60 percent in 2012, and now many of those are emerging to lay eggs. Unclear is how many survived winter.

"They are moving out," she said. But, she added, researchers are testing scents that attract stink bugs. Eventually, those could be used to trap the pests.