Infestation of stink bugs continues to spread across Virginia

September 20, 2012 by Zeke Barlow, Virginia Tech
Ames Herbert, a professor of entomology at Virginia Tech, sweeps a soy bean field for brown marmorated stink bugs. A team of researchers is sampling crops across the state to see how far the invasive pet is spreading.

(—In the 12 years since brown marmorated stink bugs were discovered in Allentown, Pa., the voracious insect has made a slow and steady march toward Virginia. Since it was found in the state in 2004, it has caused millions of dollars in damage as it destroyed apples and grapes in the Shenandoah Valley, pierced soybeans in north-central fields, and sucked the proteins and carbohydrates out of corn, tomato, green bean, and pepper plants in other areas of Virginia.

This year, stink bugs have been discovered in 20 counties in Virginia and they are expected to continue to spread throughout the state, infecting more localities than ever before.

A team of Virginia Tech researchers is working across the commonwealth to not only find a way to control the stink bug, but to keep it from spreading farther around Virginia and to other southern states, where it could continue its damaging rampage.

"It's not pretty," said Ames Herbert, professor of entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech, as he walked along at the Tidewater Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Suffolk. Though stink bugs haven't been discovered in that region yet, if they do take hold there in years to come, it could be a big problem.

"If they can make it to coastal Virginia, they can make it anywhere in the Eastern United States," said Herbert, a Virginia Cooperative Extension entomologist.

The stink bug's appetite is as varied as it is voracious.

"This is the one insect that has been all-encompassing in the sheer variety of plants it attacks," said Virginia Tech Associate Professor Tom Kuhar, an Extension entomologist. "We have very few agricultural commodities that this bug does not attack."

Virginia Tech researchers and Extension agents are working with farmers and scientists around the Mid-Atlantic states to monitor the spread of stink bugs and share ideas on how to minimize their damage.

"We are putting lots of resources into going deeper into this and trying to learn how to manage this pest," Herbert said.

At the Alson H. Smith Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Winchester, Professor Chris Bergh, Extension entomologist, along with postdoctoral associate Shimat V. Joseph and Angelita Acebes of the Philippines, a Ph.D. entomology student in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, are researching the stink bug's biology and pest management in tree fruit.

In Blacksburg, Kuhar, postdoctoral associate Katherine Kamminga and graduate student John Aigner of Locustville, Va., who is a graduate entomology student, are studying aspects of the stink bug's biology and ecology, its insecticide efficacy, and sustainable practices for managing it in vegetable crops. According to Kuhar, as much as 20 percent of the vegetable crops in Northern Virginia were lost to stink bugs in 2010.

Also in Blacksburg, entomology professor and Extension specialist Doug Pfeiffer and graduate student Sanjay Basnet of Nepal, who is a graduate entomology student, are researching the impact and management of stink bugs on wine grapes and berries.

Extension specialist and entomology Professor Rod Youngman is also assessing the impact of the bug on field corn.

The challenges with stink bugs are many. They pierce a plant's seed in order to inject enzymes and suck out the juices—a process that can damage the fruit and seed beyond use. The piercing also leaves the plant susceptible to diseases that can damage or kill it.

On top of that, there are so many stink bugs when they infest an area that it can take multiple pesticide applications to kill the bugs, driving up overhead costs for farmers.

There can be hundreds of thousands of the bugs in one field alone.

Herbert is researching exactly how much pesticide needs to be used on a soybean field to gain control. This year, he is testing the theory that only the perimeters of fields need to be sprayed because stink bug infestation seems to be heaviest there. This would greatly reduce the amount of pesticide a farmer has to use. So far, it is working on most crops, but some farmers are seeing infestations deeper in the fields.

One of Herbert's graduate students helped a U.S. Department of Agriculture research scientist examine the potential of importing one of the stink bug's natural predators from its native China, but that work will likely take years before the biological control option could be available.

Herbert also has a team of researchers fanned out across the state, sweeping fields with nets to determine how far the infestation spreads from year to year.

Kuhar is also studying what habitat attracts stink bugs.

It seems they like invasive trees from China, such as the ailanthus and paulownia. If farmers can reduce those kinds of trees along the edge of their crops, they may be able to reduce the damage from , he explained.

"You have to assume they are in your trees if they are in your crops," Kuhar said. "What we need to do is monitor farms to know who is at risk."

Explore further: Stink bugs are on the move across Pennsylvania

Related Stories

Stink bugs are on the move across Pennsylvania

July 15, 2008

( -- They're big, they're distinctively aromatic, and they're coming to a home near you. Stink bugs are on the move across Pennsylvania and a bug expert in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences says we ...

Stink bugs shouldn't pose problem until late summer

March 31, 2011

Last fall, Stephanie Sturmfels battled stink bugs at her Pike Creek home and yard. “Stink bugs were on my deck, they were on my front porch, some were even in my house,” recalls the mother of two small children. ...

Researchers develop stink bug monitoring tool

May 4, 2011

( -- As crop growers and homeowners brace for another year of infestations by the brown marmorated stink bug, Penn State researchers have released a Web-based tool that they hope will help enhance their understanding ...

Asian 'megapest' is chomping up US orchards

June 28, 2011

A stink bug from Asia is chomping up US vegetable fields, orchards and vineyards, causing experts to scramble through an arsenal of weapons to try and halt this stealthy, smelly predator.

Stink bug spread worries growers across nation

May 20, 2011

(AP) -- An insect with a voracious appetite, no domestic natural predators and a taste for everything from apples to lima beans has caused millions of dollars in crop damage and may just be getting started.

Recommended for you

Cells lacking nuclei struggle to move in 3-D environments

January 20, 2018

University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers have revealed new details of how the physical properties of the nucleus influence how cells can move around different environments - such as ...

Microbial communities demonstrate high turnover

January 19, 2018

When Mark Twain famously said "If you don't like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes," he probably didn't anticipate MIT researchers would apply his remark to their microbial research. But a new study does ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.