Stink bugs 'taking the state by swarm,' researchers say

PULLMAN — According to Washington State University researchers, stink bugs are “taking the state by swarm.”

Since mid-March, Washington State University researchers have been scrambling to keep up with a surge of inquiries from concerned property owners about brown marmorated stink bugs creeping across floors, clinging to curtain folds and more.

“In three weeks, we received 300 emails and phone calls – mostly from the state’s west side,” entomologist Michael Bush of WSU’s Yakima County Extension Office said. “We’ve never seen so much activity related to this bug – and so quickly.”

The majority of stink bug sightings are in in King, Pierce and Thurston counties, with sporadic reports

east of the Cascades, he said.

As a result of the volume of stink bug calls, the university has set up an email address to report sightings.

Snap a photo of the stick bug with a smartphone and email the picture with your name, date, location and other details to tfrec.reportbmsb@wsu.edu, he said

“The bugs have used people’s homes to overwinter. Now that temperatures are warming up, they’re trying to make their way back outside,” Bush said, adding that the jump in activity is worrisome because brown marmorated stink bugs feed on so many plant species.

Threat to agriculture

Native to Asia, marmorated stink bugs don’t bite, sting or bore into wood indoors But outdoors, they gorge on vegetables, fruit trees, nuts and ornamental plants.

They inflicted millions of dollars in damage to agricultural crops in mid-Atlantic states in 2010, the same year they were first detected in Washington state, Bush said.

Since then, they’ve taken up residence in 21 counties, ranging from Spokane and Whitman on the east side to Kitsap, King and Clark on the west side.

WSU is one of 18 universities across the nation whose scientists are monitoring the insect’s spread.

“The more we learn about this stink bug species, the more amazed we are by its generalist feeding habits,” extension entomologist Elizabeth Beers said. “Naturally, our aim is to keep them from damaging Washington’s crops and orchards.”

Beers said residents can identify brown marmorated stink bugs by thin white bands on antennae.

Residents who have more than 50 stink bugs are being sought by researchers. “If we can, we would love to come get your bugs for our research,” Beers said, noting an entomology graduate student may be dispatched to pick them up.

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