The battle of the bugs: Wasps to combat upstate stink bugs
Samurai wasps lay eggs inside stink bug eggs, killing the stink bug young. Researchers are hoping to redistribute the wasps to combat the destructive stink bug population. Sarah Taddeo
When brown marmorated stink bugs strike the Rochester again this year, they will very likely meet their most formidable foe yet.
The brown marmorated stink bug, an invasive species from Asia, has terrorized growers and homeowners across the country for several years, decimating crop harvests and popping up in residents’ living rooms.
But now, there's new bug in town — the Samurai wasp, also known as Trissolcus japonicus. It’s the stink bug’s enemy in Asia, and it lays its eggs inside stink bug eggs, where the wasp young essentially consume the stink bug egg from the inside out.
Researchers have studied the wasp in U.S. labs for years as a possible weapon against stink bugs, but it eventually showed up here in the wild on its own, said Tracy Leskey of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Now, states are looking to redistribute the wasps to control stink bug populations in the worst-hit areas.
“We’re on the cusp of being able to take the stinkbugs out by their knees,” said Leskey.
Each state needs a state permit to distribute the wasps to new locations, said Peter Jentsch, extension associate and director of the Hudson Valley Research Laboratory in Lloyd, Ulster County. The lab first has to foster a strong wasp colony, and then transfer those wasps to several outside locations, hopefully by mid-summer, he said.
New York redistribution locations haven’t been finalized yet, he said, but there will be about a dozen spots, both rural and urban, around the state. They'll ideally be places where stink bugs are prevalent but Samurai wasps don't yet exist in the wild.
A significant stink bug population has emerged in the Finger Lakes and/or Rochester in recent years, based on citizen reports, he said, so these areas are in the mix for possible redistribution.
The lab is running a March Madness Citizen Science Project, which allows residents to submit brown marmorated stink bug photos and location information for researchers to track the stink bug's whereabouts.
“We want to reduce the (stink bug) population, not just in one location but across a landscape,” said Leskey.
As of January, the stink bugs were detected in 43 states, and the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic were the hardest-hit areas of the U.S.
They eat over 100 types of plants and vegetables, and in the winter, they find their way into homes through cracks and crevices. When threatened or crushed, they release a stench that people liken to skunk odor, dirty socks or coriander.
Samurai wasps have already been redistributed in several states, including Oregon and Washington, to fight stink bugs. The biggest risk to redistributing the wasps is the possibility that they could start targeting other innocent stink bug species, said Kim Hoelmer of the USDA's Agricultural Research Service. Researchers continue to study the wasps' behavior in labs.
Humans shouldn’t be worried — the wasps are non-stinging, and are about the size of the head of a pin. If this idea works, growers won’t have to use as many insecticides to battle stink bugs, said Leskey.
“Eventually this will help take the population down to a non-damaging level,” she said.