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News Journal: Pheromone works to help catch stink bugs

In the time and a place for everything category, brown marmorated stink bugs have it nailed.

From spring through summer, they are drawn to one another and send out a chemical signal – a specialized, brown marmorated stink bug pheromone – that alerts other stink bugs, young and old, to come hither.

A team of researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Research Service in Beltsville, Maryland has isolated the chemical and is testing it in the field, as nearby as Elkton, Maryland, where it is being tested in traps at Milburn Orchards.

For Elkton farmer Nathan Milburn, the pheromone that is being tested is a new tool in his integrated pest management program at the orchard and one that can help him know when the insects are building to levels where they could jeopardize his fruit crops.

"The less you spray, the more good bugs build up in your orchard," he said. When you have a threshold number of insects "then it's time to do something."

And that's where the traps come in. They are baited with a man-made version of the pheromone. If stink bug numbers start to climb on a farm, they show up in higher numbers in the trap.

But what draws stink bugs this time of year to Milburn's farm and others has little use for folks who battle stink bugs in their homes in late summer and fall.

"They have no interest in feeding and mating" at that time, said Tracy Leskey, a USDA entomologist based in Kearneysville, West Virginia, and leader of the Agricultural Research Service brown marmorated stink bug research team. "They just want to sleep until spring."

The chemical pheromone cue, by the way, works during the growing season when farmers need it most, Leskey said.

For the rest of us doing the fall battle with the invasive insect, it's back to sweeping them up with the vacuum cleaner, caulking nooks and crannies in the home or calling in pest control experts.

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