Oregon's ability to control an exotic stink bug that threatens agriculture may rest on a tiny insect that just happens to be a natural predator of the unwanted pest.
It's a classic case of biological control with good bugs being used to fight bad bugs.
Among the interested parties is the Oregon Department of Agriculture, which hopes to find an effective way to battle Halyomorpha halys, better known as the brown marmorated stink bug.
"We first found brown marmorated stink bugs in Oregon in 2004," says Helmuth Rogg, manager of ODA's Insect Pest Prevention and Management Program. 'That first introduction was in Portland and most of the subsequent sightings were in urban areas. But in 2010, we started looking outside urban areas to see if the bug was on the move. We are now seeing it in areas close to agricultural production. That's the scary part since the pest has a long list of crops it will attack."
Oregon wants to avoid the extensive damage Pennsylvania has suffered because of the pest. What started out as a nuisance pest a decade ago in the Mid-Atlantic states has now exploded. Last year, major losses in Pennsylvania were reported for apples, peaches, grapes, tomatoes, and many other fruits and vegetables grown in the area.
Some growers lost half their crops. The stink but also feeds on maple trees, which comes as a surprise to Rogg.
"This could turn out to be the bug from hell for us," he says;. "Ornamental trees, hazelnuts, fruits, vegetables – you name it , the bug attacks it. Actually, it might be easier to list the plant hosts it won't attack."
ODA has started a more aggressive survey program this summer and will test various traps for the pest. Working closely with Oregon State University, ODA is specifically looking at major fruit production areas, including Medford, Hood River and Milton-Freewater. The pest has already been located in various areas of the agriculturally-rich Willamette Valley.