‘Pest war zone’

Published 11:12 pm Friday, November 2, 2012

What could be the first brown marmorated stink bug ever to be found in a cotton field has shown up in Suffolk, according to a local entomology expert.

The insect was reported found in soybean fields in 44 Virginia counties this year, said Dr. Ames Herbert, Extension entomologist with Virginia Tech. He is based at the Extension center on Holland Road in Suffolk.

The brown marmorated stink bug, similar to the one above, has been found in nymph form in a cotton field in Suffolk.

However, the find in Suffolk could be the first in a cotton field and the first in a coastal plain locality, Herbert said.

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The species, which is native to Asia, is believed to have been accidentally introduced to the United States sometime in the 1990s.

Since the first spotting in Allentown, Pa., the pest has spread down the East Coast, damaging a variety of crops along the way.

“It’s been a horrible pest on apples, grapes and vegetables,” Herbert said.

The pest feeds on plants by injecting enzymes and sucking out juices, damaging fruit beyond use and leaving other plants susceptible to disease. Treating an infested area can take multiple pesticide applications, which drives up production costs.

Herbert is studying how much pesticide needs to be used on a soybean field to control the infestation. But the bug is capable of doing more damage to cotton than many native species, he said.

“It has the ability to damage bolls that are not susceptible to the native species,” Herbert said.

The sighting in Suffolk was made in a private cotton field, Herbert said. The nymph was captured and brought to him for analysis, after which he confirmed it was the invasive species.

“It’s a serious concern for us,” he said. “We already deal with stink bugs, but this one looks like it might require a pretty different approach.”

The stink bugs have been found in soybean fields from the northernmost Virginia county to those on the North Carolina border, according to a press release from the Virginia Farm Bureau.

“We are putting lots of resources into going deeper into this and trying to learn how to manage this pest,” Herbert said in the press release. “I feel like we are in a pest war zone.”