Area farmers should be worried about invasive stink bugs destroying crops and fruit, but they don't have to wait until next summer to address the problem, experts say.
The thumbnail-sized insects, originally from Japan, Korea and China, like an invasive tree - sometimes called a stinktree or Tree of Heaven - and farmers seeking to get rid of the smelly bugs should think about getting rid of the not-so-heavenly smelling tree.
Stink bugs, first identified in the United States in Allentown, Pa., in 2001, heavily infested some Shenandoah Valley soybean crops for the first time this past summer, according to a Virginia Tech report.
Once established, a population can balloon quickly because of a lack of natural predators.
"In Maryland they had low numbers in 2009, and then in 2010 they found large infestations on field edges,'' Dr. Ames Herbert, an extension entomologist with Virginia Tech said. "The same pattern has occurred for us."
"In 2010 we found a few, and then this summer we found several fields with very high numbers.''
The brown marmorated stink bug and can be distinguished from its native cousins by white color bands along the antennae and the outer part of the thorax. Also unlike native stink bugs, they overwinter inside, invading houses and office buildings in the fall, and emerge in the spring ready to devour just about any fruit or vegetable they can find.
Farmers worried about the pest are not helpless, however, and they won't even have to wait until next summer to start working on eradicating the pests. They can start with one of their favorite habitats right now.
``Heavy infestations seem to be associated with fields with wooded borders, especially if there are concentrations of the invasive weed Tree of Heaven,'' Herbert said. ``Both are native to China and the (stink bug) seems to be strongly attracted to that host, especially when the trees are putting out their seed clusters. It's like a happy reunion.''
The highest concentrations of the stink bugs have been found where the invasive plant is also found in high numbers, Herbert noted.
The Tree of Heaven, scientific name Ailanthus altissima, is also known as China-sumac, Paradise Tree, varnishtree and stinktree, was introduced to the United States around 1748 by a Pennsylvania gardener and has spread throughout the states.
For a time, the up to 80-foot tree was even sold commercially, and it is now prevalent in 42 states and is the most common non-native tree in the Shenandoah National Park, according to the park service.
Taking the trees out now, might help ward off the stink bugs later, Yancey and Herbert agreed.
``It's not an uncontrollable problem,'' Herbert said. ``Taking out the Tree of Heaven will certainly help. There's no doubt (the stink bugs) like that tree.''