On the front line of the brown marmorated stink bug invasion, Doug Inkley was overrun. Over nine months last year, he counted, bug by bug, 56,205 in his house and garden. They were everywhere.
“I literally have made homemade chili and had to throw it out because there were stink bugs in it,” said Inkley, who lives in Knoxville, Md., near the West Virginia border. “I have had people refuse to come over for dinner because they knew about my stink bug problem.”
Maybe now, they’ll come over. Entomologists say the population of this invasive species from Asia appears to have cratered in the Mid-Atlantic. Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee caused flooding, drowning stink bugs and snuffing out nymphs before they could develop.
But there is also bad news. The bugs have marched to the Deep South. Recently they were detected in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, where farmers grow juicy vegetable and citrus crops the bugs are known to destroy.
It gets worse. Another type of Asian stink bug has established itself in Georgia. It eats invasive Asian kudzu, a good thing. But the kudzu bug also eats soybeans and other lucrative Georgia legumes.
On a working trip to Atlanta last week, Inkley, a senior scientist for the National Wildlife Federation, saw them flying about, attaching to walls by the hundreds.
“Here we go again,” he said.
Stink bugs come in a wide variety. Many are native to the United States, where prey insects keep them in check. Brown marmorated stink bugs native to China were first discovered in Allentown, Pa., in 1998, likely after crawling out of a cargo ship.
Stink bugs, the smelly scourge of the mid-Atlantic, are hitch-hiking and gliding their way across the country. Officially known as the brown marmorated stink bug, sightings of the pest have been reported in 33 states, an increase of eight states since last fall.
“I would say people now regard them as an out-of-control pest,” says Kim Hoelmer, a research entomologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Newark, Del.
The National Pest Management Association warns homeowners this week that the bugs’ growing populations are likely to make infestations significantly worse this year. “This season’s stink bug population will be larger than in the past,” says Jim Fredericks, director of technical services for NPMA.
The bugs have been spotted as far west as California, as far north as Minnesota and as far south as Florida. Only the Rockies and Plains states have escaped thus far. The eight states recently joining the stink bug party are Arizona, Iowa, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin, according to the USDA’s Greg Rosenthal.
Rosenthal says a report of a stink bug in a state does not necessarily mean that the pest is established or that agricultural damage has been reported in that state.
Stink bugs are named for the pungent smell they emit when frightened, disturbed or squashed.