Study Aims to Determine Why Stink Bugs Choose Some Homes and Not Others

As the weather cools, the omnipresent Brown Marmorated Stink Bug will begin looking for a nice, cozy place to stay

By Cecelia Mason
|  Tuesday, Aug 27, 2013  |  Updated 2:40 PM EDT
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As fall approaches and the weather cools, the omnipresent Brown Marmorated Stink Bug will begin looking for a nice, cozy place to stay. So researchers at the USDA Appalachian Fruit Research Station in Jefferson County, W.V., are asking the public to help them figure out why the bugs choose some houses over others.

Since its introduction to the United States from Asia in the late 1990s, the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug has spread to 41 states, the District of Columbia and Ontario, Canada. The bugs damage crops and are basically pesky because they invade homes in the winter.

Tracy Leskey, entomologist at the USDA Appalachian Fruit Research Station, said researchers have learned a lot about the bug's behavior over the past 15 years.

"For example, in the last couple of years, we've learned a lot more about the odors it responds to," Lesky said. "We've identified the pheromone of Brown Marmorated Stink Bug and so we're now using this in traps to monitor their activity throughout the season. And we're hoping in the future to use that pheromone to develop attract and kill strategies where we attract and aggregate the stink bugs to particular locations and we can annihilate them there."

Now Leskey and her colleagues want to figure out how the stink bug chooses which manmade structures to spend their winters in.

"The question we have is why particular houses or particular locations have such large infestations and why other houses and other structures may not," Leskey said. "Because we've seen in some locations where people can have literally thousands of stink bugs in their homes, but maybe a mile or two away, maybe just five or 10, and so the question is 'Why is that?"'

Leskey said scientists want to determine if factors like the color, shape, size, vegetation around the house and elevation play a role.

Leskey is looking for volunteers willing to count the number of stink bugs on their houses every day between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15. Each citizen scientist will get a form to fill out with his or her name and address, a description of his or her house and surrounding vegetation, and a rough drawing of where the home is located.

"And we hope with that information, if we can determine why they use a particular location, a particular house of a particular color, then we hope to manipulate their behavior and move them to particular location where we can also annihilate them," Leskey said.

Clearly the goal to everything Leskey does is annihilation. And she's hoping all kinds of volunteers will help her achieve that goal.

"We don't just want people who have a lot of stink bugs; we want the people who also have fewer, because that's what's going to give us the contrast to tease out what the important factors are," she added.

Leskey is primarily looking for volunteers from eastern West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland, but anyone anywhere willing to count the stink bugs on their houses for a month is welcome to participate.

Volunteers can contact Leskey via email at tracy.leskey@ars.usda.gov, or Doo-Hyung Lee or Torri Hancock at the Appalachian Fruit Research Station at 304-725-3451.

Information from WVPR-FM, http://www.wvpubcast.org/news.aspx

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