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Foreign Visitors Without Visas: Bugs, Borers, and Beetles

By Toni Leland (tonilelandMay 19, 2008

They arrive with no baggage, often stowed away on freighters, hidden in packing material or commercial cargo. These visitors never pass through Customs, and seldom register where they decide to establish a family. The first signs of their existence stirs curiosity, then study and, finally, a battle plan. Insect terrorists have again invaded our agricultural balance.

Gardening pictureSunday, May 18 begins Emerald Ash Borer Awareness Week to educate the public about the insect that has killed 25 million ash trees and threatens billions more across America. To learn more about this devastating species, read Paul Rodman's excellent article "Devil in a Green Dress," and visit the official website,

The original focus of this article was to be an overview of imported pests that have become a serious threat in the United States. However, as with all interesting research, one thing led to another and the article expanded to gargantuan proportions--too much to absorb in one reading, so I will divide the subject into separate articles: The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug and the Japanese Beetle (which will be in late June before these insects show up).

Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (Halyomorpha halys)

Green Stink BugMost of us are familiar with the Green Stink Bug (Acrosternum hilare). Its East Asian cousin, the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, arrived in Pennsylvania in 1998 and quickly spread to New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia, District of Columbia, and New York, promising to wreak havoc on agricultural crops in those areas. Funnily enough, the discovery of this bug in Ohio came about when two of these critters wandered into the home of an Ohio State University entomologist! Originating in Japan, Korea, and China, the bug is thought to have entered the United States in packing crates from Asia. Some established populations also exist in Oregon and California, and are thought to have hitchhiked there via human travel, such as cross-country moves or commercial carriers.

What is the impact of this bug?

Like other tr
ue bugs, stink bugs feed by sucking the juices from a plant or fruit, thereby opening a portal to disease and other insect damage. For farm-to-market growers, the cosmetic aspect alone can be devastating. Rutgers University Cooperative Extension states that the bug feeds on at least 100 different plants including agricultural crops such as crabapples, raspberries, legumes, various vegetables, peaches, pears, apples, cherries, grapes, currants, soybeans, and corn. In the home landscape, they prefer butterfly bush, serviceberry (shadbush), pyracantha, viburnum, rose, and honeysuckle ornamentals as well as persimmon, catalpa, walnut, maple, basswood, sweet gum, and redbud trees, and American holly.


Brown Marmorated Stink BugThe Brown Marmorated Stink Bug is the same shape as other stink bugs: a shield approximately 15 mm (5/8 inch) long by 8 mm (3/8 inch) wide. The shield is mottled brown and gray and covered with what look like punctures. The distinguishing feature of this species is alternating brown and white bands on the antennae; legs are also brown with faint white stripes. The light green eggs are laid in clusters on the undersides of leaves. Nymphs look similar to adults, but are more brightly colored with red and black, but with the same antennae and leg banding.

Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs do not bite, but they do get into homes when the weather turns cold, and have a horrible odor when disturbed or squashed. Since this new visitor is still somewhat of a mystery to entomologists, the need to document expanding ranges and habits gives home gardeners the opportunity to participate in the future control of the species. If you find what you think is a Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, report the sighting to your county Extension educator, or to the centralized website.



"Ohio's new invasive species: stink bugs." The Columbus Dispatch, December 23, 2007.

Regional Pest Alert: Brown Marmorated Stink Bug; Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, 1/10/08

Entomological Notes: Brown Marmorated Stink Bug; PennState College of Agricultural Sciences, Cooperative Extension, February 2008.

How to Identify the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug; Rutgers.


  About Toni Leland  
Toni LelandToni Leland has been writing for over 20 years. As a spokesman for the Ohio State University Master Gardener program, she has written a biweekly newspaper column and is the editor of the Muskingum County MG newsletter, Connections; she currently writes for GRIT, Over the Back Fence, and Country Living magazines. She has been a gardener all her life, working soil all over the world. In her day job, she scripts and produces educational DVDs about caring for Miniature Horses, writes and edits books about them, and has published five novels.

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