Combating the Brown Marmorated
A New Threat for Agriculture,
a Nuisance for
The brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys), a
winged invader from Asia that is eating crops and infesting U.S. homes, is
spreading and is expected to continue to do so. Adult (top) and fifth-instar
No one is sure exactly when it got here, but the brown
marmorated stink bug may be coming to an orchard, field, or attic near you.
Halyomorpha halys, a native of Asia, has been
expanding its range since its U.S. discovery in Allentown, Pennsylvania, 8
years ago. It has since been detected in portions of Virginia, West Virginia,
New Jersey, Delaware, and Oregon, has infested houses in Maryland, and is
showing up in increasing numbers in
ARS traps in Beltsville,
Jeffrey Aldrich, an entomologist and expert on stink bugs at
the ARS Invasive Insect Biocontrol and Behavior Laboratory in Beltsville, is
developing a weapon that will use the insect’s own body chemistry: a
Stink bugs are a relentless threat to cotton, corn, soybeans,
and other crops. “They’re mobile and not particularly susceptible
to insecticides,” Aldrich says.
The impact of H. halys remains to be seen, but ARS
researchers in Kearneysville, West Virginia, have seen them feeding in apple
orchards, and in Asia, the bugs feed on ornamental plants, weeds, soybeans,
apples, peaches, figs, mulberries, citrus fruits, and persimmons.
The biggest problem in the United States so far has been in
homes. When the weather turns cool each fall, the bugs look for wintering sites
and make their way into houses and buildings. They don’t harm humans, but
if they’re squashed or pulled into a vacuum cleaner, they emit an
Aldrich was stunned at the degree of infestation he saw at a
private home near Hagerstown, Maryland, last year, particularly in the attic.
The homeowner was looking for a simple way to get rid of them—and there
Entomologist Jeffrey Aldrich prepares to use a confocal
microscope to locate and identify the area from which the brown marmorated
stink bug produces pheromone.
Adult male stink bugs often produce attractant pheromones. In
Japan, the brown-winged green bug, Plautia stali, a cousin of the new
arrival, releases a pheromone consisting of a single compound that is the basis
for a lure used in a Japanese commercial trap. Aldrich has been working with
Ashot Khrimian, an ARS chemist, who has synthesized the compound in the
Japanese trap. Aldrich put the compound in experimental traps he designed to
monitor H. halys, and he says the population has jumped from barely
detectable levels in 2004 to numbers that now surpass those of the native green
“It’s early in this insect’s invasion and
things are still unfolding, but it is spreading and it’s going to
continue to spread,” Aldrich says. He is searching for a H. halys
pheromone that can be synthesized and used in a trap to protect houses,
fields, and orchards. Using the bug’s own pheromones would likely make
for a more effective trap than using pheromones from another stink bug.
Aldrich is raising the bugs in his lab, inserting them into
specially vented tubes, and using gas chromatography to look for pheromones
among their emissions. He initially tested clusters of stink bugs, but studies
show that some stink bugs emit more pheromone when raised individually, so he
is now running his tests on individual H. halys. He’s optimistic
the results will pay off. “I find it hard to believe this thing
doesn’t have a pheromone,” he says.—By Dennis
O’Brien, Agricultural Research Service Information
The research is part of Crop Protection and Quarantine, an
ARS national program (#304) described on the World Wide Web at
Aldrich and Ashot Khrimian
are with the USDA-ARS
Insect Biocontrol and Behavior Laboratory, 10300 Baltimore Ave.,
Beltsville, MD 20705; phone (301) 504-8531, fax (301) 504-6580.
"Combating the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug: A New
Threat for Agriculture, a Nuisance for Homeowners"
was published in the July 2009 issue
of Agricultural Research magazine.