MS. REBECCA SHEIR
So we all know the old saying, home is where the heart is, but if you live in the D.C. region, home is also where you find a ton of stink bugs right about now crawling out from behind cracks and crevices, covering your windows and yummy, yummy, dropping into your hair. The bugs look kind of like, I don't know, kind of like brown shields with legs. They are resistant to pesticides and they're hungry for just about, well, everything.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
They were somehow probably introduced into Allentown, Pa. in the 1990s and they've been spreading ever since. As environmental reporter Sabri Ben-Achour tells us, the USDA is experimenting to see if we can bring the invasive Asian insects under control by importing their natural predator, a parasitic Asian wasp.
MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR
By now, it almost seems like everyone in the D.C. region has had first-hand experience with the Brown...
MS. MARIANNE BURKHART
MR. CHARLES BLACK
...in the couch, in clothing.
MR. FABIE MORADIAN
It was all black all over my walls. It was full last year.
That's Marianne Burkhart, Charles Black and Fabie Moradian. The shield-shaped insects were introduced from Asia and descended on the region with the fury of a plague last year. If you bother to crush them, the bugs smell like cilantro and burning rubber. But for Bob Black, they're more than just a nuisance.
MR. BOB BLACK
This thing is really going to put a big chapter in my book of life. I've never had anything affect me like this.
Black runs Catoctin Mountain Orchard in Thurmont, Md. where his family grows everything.
Plums, tomatoes, pears.
The apricot blossoms are just starting to come out and Black is starting to worry. Just like many other farmers across the region, Black saw his crops decimated by Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs. With their long needle-like mouthpieces, the insects pierce the flesh of fruits and vegetables and leave them bruised and disfigured.
One of my late varieties, Pink Lady, which a lot of people like, that's the latest apple. We had up to 50 percent damage on that. I can handle a few percent, but, you know, it gets up to 25 to 50 percent that is pretty devastating for me.
And as Black discovered, his usual pesticides didn't really do much.
This one can actually play in it and eat it and it won't even kill it. That's how tough this insect is.
And this year will probably be worse.
MR. MIKE RAUPP
We're going to hear a collective wail up and down the east coast and in the metropolitan area as hordes of these things come out of people's attics and try to find their way back outdoors.
Mike Raupp is an entomologist at the University of Maryland. He says the population has grown exponentially and he says the bugs are moving outward from the epicenter of Allentown, Pa.
They're now found in more than 30 states as far west as Washington in California, as far south as Florida they've been detected. But right here in the mid-Atlantic region, this is ground zero for the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug.
When you boil it all down, the problem is pretty basic, he says.
They simply arrived here without their full complement of natural enemies.
And 100 miles away in Newark, Del. that is exactly what the U.S. Department of Agriculture is working on. Outside a red door marked, Quarantine, entomologist Kim Hoelmer and technician Kathy Tatman are suiting up.
MR. KIM HOELMER
If there were an insect that were to be loose in quarantine, which it's not supposed to be, it would stay on the outside of the quarantine suit rather than getting into our hair, inside our shirt so we wouldn't be bringing it back outside again.
Behind this door are a myriad of foreign insects being evaluated to see if they can fight invasive foreign pests that have gone wild in North America.
So she has to use this special electronic key to go in.
MS. KATHY TATMAN
If it allows me to open it...
Well, actually, all we see is a tiny concrete room with a hugely, heavy door and then another tiny, concrete room with. How many of these chambers are there?
There's one more.
Yeah, three little ante rooms.
And finally, we reach a series of dark, glowing red corridors.
See, the light is red to minimize insect flight movement because most insects can't see red. This looks like a dark room to them.
Everything is designed to prevent escape.
All of the air and water coming into and out of quarantine is filtered. All the air goes through hepa-filters, which will keep anything larger than a virus from passing through.
Tatman pulls out tray after tray of little vials and petro dishes from modules whose temperature, light and humidity are precisely controlled.
This is an insect growth chamber.
Inside the little vials, rafts of tiny, pearly, green orbs sit on leaves. They're stink bug eggs and there's something else in there, tiny, black dots are zipping around in the jars. Parasitoid Trissolcus wasps from China, Japan and Korea, just two millimeters long, they don’t look like much more than gnats. They don't bite or sting and they feed on nectar, but in Asia, they are the natural nemesis of the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug.
These small wasps will deposit their eggs inside the stink bug eggs. Then the parasite egg hatches and its immature stage feeds on the inside of the stink bug egg.
In a few weeks, out pops a new wasp and no stink bug. Hoelmer says these wasps are extremely specialized at (word?) .
If they can't find stink bug eggs to lay their own eggs in, they'll die. They can't survive on anything else.
But there are almost 300 types of stink bugs in the U.S. and a lot of them are helpful because they eat other pests. So Hoelmer needs to know would these wasps ever go after other stink bugs. What about stink bugs that are really, really closely related to the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug? What if they were locked in a jar with no other option? Well, Hoelmer will test exactly that, putting the wasps with different stink bug species to see what happens.
If we've chosen wisely, we have a good picture of the specificity of the wasps. If they won't attack any of the close relatives, they will not be as likely to attack any of the more distant ones.
It will take three years before he's satisfied that the wasps don't pose a risk. Hoelmer points to examples where this has worked before. Gypsy moths were controlled by an introduced fungus. White flies in California were cut down by other parasitic wasps. Back at Catoctin Mountain Orchard Bob Black can't wait.
Using the wasp, hopefully will be our answer. I mean, we've had other things, drought, other issues, but this insect is one of the toughest things that I've ever had to work on.
Until then, seven states are asking the EPA to relax pesticide regulations. Researchers are looking at pheromones, traps and naturally-repellant landscape plants, none of which are considered fully effective. I'm Sabri Ben-Achour.
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