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US: Stink bug research continues

This is the time of year to enjoy a fresh tree ripened peach or apple but, unfortunately for growers, the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug has developed a taste for these fruits as well. Scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Appalachian Fruit Research Station in Jefferson County are studying ways to keep the bugs from causing too much damage. Stink bugs damage crops by piercing them with a piercing, sucking mouth part and ejecting pre-salivary juice into the tissue of the fruit or vegetable. “So on apple the stink bug injury appears as a discolored depression on the surface of the fruit on the skin and beneath we see a dry corky area beneath,” Tracy Leskey, U.S.D.A. research entomologist, said. “So this is the typical damage that we see at this time of the year that results from Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs feeding on fruit which means it is less acceptable to our consumers.” The U.S. Apple Association estimates, in the Mid Atlantic states, the bugs caused $37 million in damage last year.

Scientists at the Appalachian Fruit Research Station are trying to figure out how to keep the stink bugs from causing more damage. Research is geared toward understanding their behavior. “We’re studying the cues this insect uses both visual and olfactory to attract and aggregate these bugs in terms of developing monitoring tools for this insect that growers can use to make management decisions as well as management strategies based on attract and kill type approaches,” Leskey said. Scientists work with bugs that are raised here in a room that provides the perfect stink bug climate. These bugs live in comfy cages and are fed a well-rounded diet. This allows scientists to experiment on bugs that are the same age and sex. “And so that’s why primarily we use our colony,” Leskey said. “Certainly lots of other questions can be asked but primarily that’s what we’re doing, it’s a source of known individuals for experiments.” Traps set in orchards help scientists figure out how many stink bugs are outside and what stage of development they’re in. Entomologist Starker Wright empties a trap that contains bugs caught in one day.

“What I was doing with that trap is assessing the effects of the trap mechanism and visual response where the visual stimulus is a black pyramid which simulates a tree trunk which the immature bugs like to crawl up and then the trapping mechanism is an inverted funnel jar at the top of the trunk,” Wright said. The stink bugs are then sorted according to age and sex. That helps scientists figure out whether the response to the traps varies depending on how old they are and whether they are male or female. Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs feed on at least 300 plants and with no natural predator, their population has exploded in recent years. Scientists hope the experiments they’re doing here and at other research facilities will help them devise a plan to control the bugs so they don’t further damage our food supply.


Publication date: 8/30/2011


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