Since the calendar year of 2010 was flipped to 2011, there has been no greater matter of importance for Maryland vegetable and fruit farmer’s in this upcoming year than the brown marmorated stink bug. This invasive creature is feared to reproduce in plague-like numbers to wreak unfathomable havoc on our mid-Atlantic region. Fear is the key word here, and ask any agricultural extension agent in the near vicinity… this upcoming season could be… catastrophic!
But what are brown marmorated stink bugs? Supposedly, they are rather tasty, but I will return to that fanciful notion. Stink bugs, in general, are flying insects that love to devour, or at least tap into, a great majority of the fruit and vegetables that we humans find, well, delicious. One might call them gourmands. Who can fault them on that? Anyway, there are a multitude of indigenous species of stink bugs that attack tomatoes and beans, etc., but now there is an Asian strain of stink bug, called the “brown marmorated” stink bug, that has descended on our region in a most nefarious manner. What has drawn the most attention to these filthy critters by the non-farming populace is that they tend to find shelter in individual homes during the winter. As I write this, I hear the familiar… Hold on for a minute…That one was hard to reach, you see, my ceilings are ten feet high and, well, nonetheless, number 31… Where was I?
Oh yeah, the brown marmorated stink bug. I apologize for the diversion, but as those critters start flying about in one’s abode, especially at night, they sound like miniature small engine aircraft with a flight pattern as chaotic as… modern art? That is probably a bad example, nonetheless, they are less than discreet, and incessant, which, with my low level of annoyance tolerability, ultimately leads to their squished doom.
But I have lost the train of thought again. That choo-chooing was diverted by that annoying and now squashed buzz. And so… the brown marmorated stink bug has separated itself from the indigenous shield-shaped stink bugs in their uncanny ability to somehow invade houses. How they have accomplished that feat, I do not wish to dwell on, merely for brevity’s sake. The fact that the average house dweller has to deal with the pests, and are aware of what I am referring to is enough.
It is the farmer’s upcoming plight that is ultimately of relevance here. While the intrusion into individual homes is annoying at best, the reality is that their numbers have exponentionally increased over the entire region. If the average home dweller needs to stand in constant vigilance against those pests, what will it be like in the great outdoors when that weather suits them? How is a farmer to protect their tomatoes from such an influx of those relentless pests?
From the information I have received, the brown marmorated stink bug was first “noticed” in Allentown, Pennsylvania in 1998. Since then, those insects have thrived in the mid-Atlantic environment and reproduced to a level that makes the Extension agents extremely nervous, to put it mildly. It seems, and this is their unwaveringly wise approach, only the most toxic of pesticides will kill those beasts, and of those pesticides, even the extension office is wary of using. What is the farmer to do to protect the crops from this invasive species?
In 1998, I first planted beans with the help of a flashlight at three o’clock in the morning on my parent’s property, which is otherwise known as Nev-R-Dun Farm. (At the time, I was a bartender, so…) Admittedly at that time, I was not all that familiar with the pests that attack vegetable plants. As the years fell by, and my farming endeavor increased, the uncountable varieties of insects were noticed, analyzed, and approaches for either determent or defense were devised either through reading or deduction. One thing I noticed early was the damage the squash bug can do to, especially, summer squash, like zucchini and yellow crookneck squash. That flying insect was logged into my brain on the newly emerged list of “To Be Immediately Squished”. And when squished, a strange odor emanated from that critter’s carcass, an odor I have long termed, “victory”.
It may seem as though I am rambling, but what I noticed with the squash bugs is that they collected upon the farm house and out buildings in much the same manner as the brown marmorated stink bugs do. And it just so happens that squash bugs and stink bugs of all kinds are closely related. Anyway, I noticed, or became aware, of the brown marmorated stink bugs probably six or seven years ago. Admittedly, I did not think much about them. Since my farming experience only extends a few years over a decade, I assumed those bugs were natural to the scene. For sure, they cause damage to the tomatoes and beans, but I did not truly comprehend the invasive species, the brown marmorated stink bug, until last year. For my ignorant eyes, I was well aware of the smaller, indigenous shield stink bug, as well as the larger, and louder brown marmorated species, but I did not realize that the latter were relatively new to the scene.
Anyway, last year, as the murmurs started to brew about that invasive pest, which I have been aware of for years, I remember distinctly reflecting on how their numbers were significantly less last year than previous years, at least that is, on my crops. Was my ability of observance hampered in some manner? I have written before in these “Tales of Idyllia” about the sound of their fury. The movement of their wings are decibels louder than the indigenous brown stink bugs. As one who farms organically, I scrutinize all the creatures and critters in the fields. And I assert, again, last year, there were far fewer brown marmorated stink bugs on my crops than in previous years. As the impending plague of those pests are about to descend upon us farmers, how is that the case?
One thing mentioned by the extension agents in their hysteria is that there are no native predators for those pests. Now that statement struck me as absurd. Stink bugs are considered a delicacy in many countries in the world. I learned that through a learning channel many years ago. But should I take some taped program to be my source for knowledge? Absolutely not! Experience is the one true channel to knowledge.
I started my count of dead stink bugs, …the aforementioned 31 is now up to 35, and as soon as I find the one that landed on the floor, it will be up to 36…, with one of those stink bugs on my bathroom ceiling sometime in February. I had to use a mop handle to reach the ten foot ceiling, but I was able to swipe that critter down, though it landed behind the door instead of where I had intended. As I closed the door to look for it, I found that despicable critter… ensnared in a spider’s web. And here is the point of all of this rambling. Over the next two days, I witnessed the spider that spun that web make short work of that brown marmorated stink bug. That spider did not have any prejudice that it was an “Asian”, that is, an invasive variety. It was food. Period.
So, there ARE native predators for those pests. For sure, it would be a stretch to think that spiders could contain their exploding population. But, as nature loves balance, there are always predators for the smaller insect life forms. BUT, again, why were the number of stink bugs diminished this past season on my farm?
Then, my neighbor, Kirk, told me that bats eat stink bugs. REALLY? Wow, now that makes sense! There are hundreds upon hundreds of bats on the farm. They hang in the beams of every farm building, garage, and even the attic of the centenarian house. On any given evening in the warmer months, hordes of bats pour forth from the various buildings in which they have sought refuge. If those flying mammals devour stink bugs…
At this point, I can’t say for sure if that is the case or not. It all makes quite logical sense, but I will have to analyze this season as I do every season. Nonetheless, the brown marmorated stink bug’s numbers have increased exponentially, at least within our domestic refuges. Whether they will mar all of the fruit and vegetables this year is to be determined. And that is also why this is Part One of the brown marmorated stink bug listing. There shall surely be another entry on those foul beasts to follow…