Global warming could see invasive crop-destroying stink bugs travel further in the US

This is a threat to farmers everywhere.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Stink bugs feed on crops.jpg
Stink bugs feed on crops.

FrankRamspott/iStock 

Stink bugs, formally known as “brown marmorated stink bugs,” are invasive to 40 different states in the U.S. and are detrimental to many crops.

To make matters worse, a new study by Washington State University is suggesting these insects are bound to increase their presence as global warming worsens, according to a press release by the institution published last month.

A relatively new problem

Brown marmorated stink bugs weren’t always an American problem. They originated from eastern Asia and were first discovered in Pennsylvania about 20 years ago.

Today, they’ve spread across the country, but prefer to reside in the mid-Atlantic, parts of the Midwest and the west coast.

Researchers of the new study sought to evaluate just how far these pests might spread as climate change continues to heat up the weather in the U.S. They used factors such as temperatures and rainfall rates in a model simulation that aimed to predict which parts of the country might become more or less attractive for stink bugs by the year 2080.

Alarmingly, they found that the number of suitable habitats for these pesky insects could increase by 70 percent. The mid-Atlantic, the Great Lakes area and western valley regions, like around Sacramento, California will be the most affected, the model showed.

This will particularly affect agriculture in those regions.

Global warming could see invasive crop-destroying stink bugs travel further in the US
A stink bug.

“Every system will change with climate change, so the fact that you can grow garbanzo beans, lentils or wheat without these pests now, doesn't mean that you will not have them in a few years,” said study lead author Javier Gutierrez Illan, a Washington State University entomologist. “There are mitigating things that we can do, but it is wise to prepare for change.”

The bugs need two things to thrive: warm weather and water. So if an area is too cold or too dry, it will not see much of these notorious insects. Still, so far, stinky bugs have managed to thrive.

They have become a pest insect on many crops since spreading into the US two decades ago and have been found feeding on nearly 170 different types of plants including crops and ornamental plants.

If you think a few meals here and there are not a problem it should be noted that their feeding has rendered many crops completely unusable.

Transported to new locations

Even more worrisome is the fact that people are likely inadvertently transporting stink bugs in vehicles or farm equipment to areas that would otherwise be hard for them to reach by flying alone, said Gutierrez Illan.

Gutierrez Illan is now advising farmers and growers to familiarize themselves with the brown marmorated stink bug using sites like stopbsmb.org, even if they have never encountered the pests in their fields.

“Most growers learn from their parents or from the previous generation, but the information that they had is probably no longer as useful because the climate is changing, so they need these types of tools,” Gutierrez Illan said.

The results of the new study were published in August in the journal Pest Management Science.

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