Clemson University officials are asking for the public’s help in tracking a new invasive insect that has begun appearing in South Carolina. Called the brown marmoset stinkbug, it can cause major infestations in houses, releasing a strong odor as it does so. It also threatens fruit trees, worrying many peach farmers in the state.
The stinkbug was first identified in Pennsylvania in 1998. It has spread through the Mid-Atlantic and South over the past ten years. Although it has some predators– such as snakes, lizards, and spiders– there are not enough to keep the population in check. Its primary predator in Asia is a species of parasitic wasp that does not exist in the United States.
The bug is mostly brown, but has a black and white checkerboard pattern around the edge of its body. Other than that border, it resembles the native brown stinkbug. However, there is one big difference: the Asian bugs gather in large groups, often causing an infestation.
“Basically, they like to hang out in large numbers together,” Sherry Aultman, the Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey coordinator with Clemson’s plant industry department, said. “Part of the chemical smell they emit is actually signal saying ‘Hey, guys, come over here. I found something really good.'”
She said the bug has been found in five counties (Florence, Lexington, Oconee, Pickens, and Spartanburg) so far, but she believes they are already in more. She said the biggest problems are being reported in Spartanburg County.
State pest regulators want to know how widespread the bugs are in South Carolina so they can determine what countersteps are needed. “We can keep these levels down,” Aultman said, “The trick is finding out what the population levels are… You don’t want to just start spraying if you don’t have high numbers of them.”
Aultman said she expects the number of sightings to go up as the cold weather approaches and the insects are driven inside. Clemson is asking anyone whose home is possibly infested by the bugs to take a sample to a nearby Clemson Extension Service center. They warn against spraying large amounts of insecticide inside the home.
Clemson is headquarters for the state’s official plant pest regulatory agency. The agency monitors and reports the movement of such pests in the state to alert growers to the threats. The school’s Department of Pesticide Regulation is working to prepare a request for EPA to allow the use of an insecticide not currently approved for this insect on fruit trees.