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Stink bugs threaten crops in U.S. South

March 17, 2012 at 9:28 PM   |   Comments

ATLANTA, March 17 (UPI) -- Two Mid-Atlantic hurricanes last year had the effect of pushing that region's invasive stink bug infestation into the Deep South, scientists say.

The Washington Post reported Friday the brown marmorated stink bugs have headed south from Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia into South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, putting vegetable and citrus crops at risk. Another type of stink bug is damaging soybeans and other legumes in Georgia, the newspaper said.

"Here we go again," said Doug Inkley, a senior scientist for the National Wildlife Federation who endured a stink bug infestation at his home in Knoxville, Md.

Brown marmorated stink bugs arrived in the United States from China, likely arriving on a cargo ship. They were first spotted in Allentown, Pa. While domestic versions of the stink bug are kept in check by native predators, the Asian species have no such enemies.

That allows them to tear through crops. In 2010, they caused about $37 million in damage to Mid-Atlantic apple crops alone, the Post said. Peach and raspberry crops also took heavy hits in some parts of Maryland.

Agriculture officials worry it could get worse once the bugs become established in Floria.

"It could be like the atomic bomb going off," said Douglas G. Luster, research leader for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service.

Denise Feiber, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, agreed the risk is great.

"There is great fear that if the brown marmorated stink bug gets established in Florida, it will do a lot of damage," she said Thursday.

Scientists are testing the use of a non-stinging parasitic wasp from Asia that is a natural stink bug predator. The fear, however, is that it could become another invasive pest.

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