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.
In the biology department, an assistant professor sits in front of a continuous screen of green letters reminiscent of scenes from "The Matrix."
He is analyzing the gene sequences of wasps –wasps that are being used as an alternative to chemical pest controls in agriculture.
The wasp, Nasonia vitripennis, is being used as a form of chemical-free pest control "whose larvae parasitize various life stages of other arthropods such as insects, ticks and mites," according to a paper published Jan. 15 in "Science."
"In the 1950s, they didn’t know about these wasps, so they used chemicals," Christopher Smith, an SF State associate professor on the project, said. "Now, agriculture chemicals sterilize water systems and kill arthropods. Even household pesticides are a big problem –they reduce biodiversity in the ecosystem."
Parasitoids like the wasp are used nationally and are bred to attack pests that negatively affect agricultural crops.
"It’s where the frontier of science is at right now. When I was in grad school, there were no genomes," Smith said.
Smith is one of a team of researchers contributing to a larger study on the wasps. p>
His job is to receive the insect’s genome, then sequence and analyze the DNA he gets on the computer.