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Brown marmorated stink bug sighting near Nampa provokes concerns for farms and homes

The first confirmed Idaho sighting of the brown marmorated stink bug, shown in this illustration, has led officials to worry about the pests potentially attacking crops and bothering homeowners.

He eats all your food. His hygiene is questionable. And instead of leaving when finished, he invites all his friends to stay for good.

Now the brown marmorated stink bug, the most unwelcome of “guests,” has been confirmed for the first time in Idaho near Nampa, the Idaho State Department of Agriculture said.

The pest, a migrant from Asia, has been ravaging the mid-Atlantic states since the mid-1990s. In some of the more dire scenarios, the bug destroyed as much as 50 percent of the apple crops and terrorized other fruit and seed growers.

Worse, the aptly named stink bug likes to winter inside homes, where it tends to release a foul-smelling odor when jostled by the people who already live there, said Jim Barbour, an entomologist working at the University of Idaho’s Southwest Idaho Research and Extension Center in Parma.

“It has the potential to be a big problem for home gardens and agricultural operations in the area, and it has the opportunity to be a nuisance pest,” Barbour said.

The stink bug has yet to find a footing in Idaho, but it has been established for several years in Oregon and Washington. It hasn’t caused as much damage there as on the East Coast, Barbour said.

Lloyd Knight, the Division of Plant Industries administrator at ISDA, said the department had its first confirmed sighting of the insect in Idaho just after Memorial Day.

A couple that had moved from Maryland opened a box and saw a few of the pests fly out. They alerted the department immediately, he said.

“Obviously it’s concerning to us, but we don’t know if we have an infestation or if we just have a few bugs that moved here from Maryland,” Knight said.

Other, unconfirmed Idaho sightings have been documented online since 2009, Barbour said.

Those sightings could mean the bug is occasionally transferred in freight or carried by the wind from Oregon, but doesn’t like the more arid climate in Idaho enough to stay, he said. The bug has settled in places with higher humidity than Idaho in the past.

“It may be here or it may have just been introduced a couple times and not made it,” Barbour said.

Fruit farmers, like Dan Symms of Symms Fruit Ranch in Caldwell, said the news is alarming, but growers are not yet convinced there is a threat.

“We’re not panicked yet,” he said, but at the same time “there’s not a whole lot we can do about it. It’s not like we could set traps or do anything preventive really.”

Knight said the bug is very difficult to track and the department will rely on farmers, gardeners and other citizens to be vigilant if they spot an unfamiliar insect. He said people should call the ISDA if they see something that resembles the stink bug.

“The challenge we have with these is we don’t have a pheromone that we can use to track them like we do with other pests,” Knight said. “This is one of those things that until we get better tools, it’s going to be those phone calls that do us some good.”

Most farmers in Idaho won’t be affected by the bug, but people in southwestern parts of the state might have to protect crops or homes from a potential invasion.

The bugs don’t eat tubers, like potatoes, and have little appetite for grain. Apple and cherry orchards, as well as some seed crops like corn, would bear the brunt of the bug’s feeding habits. Homes in the surrounding areas would be the likely destinations for the stink bug’s tendency toward luxury living in the winter.

“I would say it’s not going to be a problem for potatoes and small grain. But in southwestern Idaho there is quite a few crops it could (hurt),” Barbour said.

There is no real established way to fight the pests in the United States, outside of pesticides that have had a checkered success rate, Knight said. Much research, sparked by damage in the mid-Atlantic states, is under way.

Barbour said that at first, if only low levels of stink bug population are present, the battery of pesticides now in use in Idaho will likely work as a defense.

However, pesticide usage may only work on the bugs in part of the life cycle and cause resistance to the same chemicals in the overall population, Knight said.

Some researchers are looking at the possibility of importing parasitic wasps from the stink bug’s native countries, which would eat the stink bug’s eggs, Barbour said. Until they test possible side effects in the northwest, that weapon will be left on the shelf, he said.

So for now, the best defense is vigilance.

“It’s just being aware,” Knight said.

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