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Bugs give organic farms big problems.

Byline: Susan Palmer The Register-Guard

The brown marmorated stink bug is not a picky eater. Native to Japan, China, Taiwan and Korea, it's known to dine on at least 70 different plant species.

And that could be a big problem for us in Oregon, insect experts say, because the agricultural pest has turned up here after successfully invading several Eastern states.

The Asian stink bug - aka Halyomorpha halys - first appeared in Oregon last year, when the Oregon Department of Agriculture received dozens of reports of sightings in Portland after putting out a public alert.

State workers confirmed the sightings in a southeast Portland neighborhood.

Since then, a single bug in Salem has also been confirmed, said Jim LaBonte, a state taxonomic entomologist, whose job it is to identify insects.

Similar in size and appearance to box elder bugs, the brown marmorated stink bug has no known natural predators, parasites or diseases here.

And while it'll make a meal out of most anything, it particularly likes tree fruits and beans.

In large numbers it could pose a real problem for organic farms here as it has in other places, LaBonte said.

"It has done some damage to organic tree fruit operations in Pennsylvania," he said.

The bugs first turned up in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and western Virginia.

First seen in 1996, they weren't correctly identified until 2001.

Entomologists assume the insect caught a ride to the United States on cargo containers from Asia.

How it came to Oregon - via shipment from Asia or from the Eastern states - is a mystery, LaBonte, said.

Cornell University researchers are currently trying to determine the genetic makeup of the Oregon bugs in an effort to determine whether they're similar to the Eastern states' specimens.

The adult bugs feed directly on the fruit, discoloring and softening it, leaving the fruit unmarketable. The bugs also eat the leaves and stems, damaging the viability of the plant. They can also transmit a disease capable of killing at least one kind of tree - an empress or princess tree, LaBonte said.

Most growers try to use pesticides as little as possible, and opt for biological controls on their plants, but a stink bug infestation could disrupt that process, LaBonte said.

A pesticide used to control the stink bugs might harm biological agents being used to control other insects, he said.

The Asian stink bug is active from late spring until the first frosts in autumn.

Like box elder bugs and ladybird beetles, stink bugs also tend to invade homes in the winter, where they can become a nuisance.

Some homeowners have had to deal with thousands of insects crawling in through a home's cracks and crevasses.

"When they're disturbed, they emit quite a powerful pungent unpleasant odor," LaBonte said. Think dirty oily socks.

It's a bad idea to try vacuuming up these bugs because if they get chopped up on a vacuum's beater bar, they can stink up a house, he said.

The Department of Agriculture wants help finding the range of the bugs and is asking people to report sightings and send a specimen as confirmation.

The bugs are about half an inch long, roughly the size of a fingernail, a mottled brown and gray color and can be distinguished from native Oregon stink bugs by light banding on their antenna and lack of teeth along the thorax right behind the head.

Check the state's Web site for a picture at www. oregon.gov/ODA/PLANT/ alerts_index.shtm.

The bugs can be preserved by putting them in the freezer where they should be left for a few days.

Then they should be sent in a crush-proof container, LaBonte said.

For more information on identifying and sending in a specimen, call the Oregon Invasive Species Hotline at 1-866-468-2337.

CAPTION(S):

The brown marmorated stink bug has turned up in Oregon and has the potential to damage organic crops. Kent Loeffler / Cornell University Kent Loeffler / Cornell University The brown marmorated stink bug has turned up in Oregon and has the potential to damage organic crops.
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Title Annotation:Agriculture
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 18, 2005
Words:679
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