Hitch-hiking stink bug samples brought to Marlborough to help identify noxious pest
The number one biosecurity threat to the Marlborough wine industry, a hitch-hiking stink bug, has made its way to the region - albeit safely inside gel filled containers.
Brown marmorated stink bug samples were brought to the Marlborough Research Centre two weeks ago as a comparison tool for any suspect bugs found in the region.
The noxious pests have the potential to do untold damage to horticultural industries in New Zealand, and pressure is mounting to keep them from breaching the borders.
New Zealand Winegrowers biosecurity manager Dr Edwin Massey said Ministry of Primary Industries border security staff intercepted the bugs 106 times last summer.
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There were also four occasions where the pest managed to slip through the net and were found in Whitianga, New Plymouth, Auckland and Christchurch, he said.
To combat the threat, New Zealand Winegrowers was partnering with other horticultural organisations and MPI to develop readiness plans, as well as biosecurity controls.
Massey said the group planned to apply to the Environmental Protection Agency to bring in the samurai wasp as a way of targeting the stink bugs if they became established.
"They target stink bug eggs to lay their eggs inside, and when the larvae hatch they eat the stink bug eggs from the inside," he said.
If the pest managed to hitch its way to Marlborough and become established in the region Massey said it could be devastating for the billion dollar wine industry.
"They eat any horticultural crops, but they'd be a real threat to grape production and to wine quality - they're called a stink bug for a reason," he said.
"When they're threatened they release a chemical which could taint the grape juice, which is really smelly, I'd describe it as a cross between sweaty socks and coriander."
Plant and Food scientist Dion Mundy brought the samples to the Marlborough Research Centre from the University of California Davis in association with Better Border Biosecurity.
Massy said people had brought suspect bugs to the research centre over harvest, and the samples would be an invaluable tool to help researchers compare and identity the stink bug.
The bugs, which were about the size of a 20 cent piece, looked similar to others found in New Zealand, including the brown shield bug and the brown soldier bug but they were larger, Massey said.
Summer was the high-risk period for the pest entering the country, as it hibernated over the Northern Hemisphere winter. It had been found in export shipments as diverse as mortuary equipment to Barbie dolls.
However, Massey said it had recently become established in a Southern Hemisphere country for the first time, in Chile, so the risk period was now likely to be all year around.
"There's more pressure every year so it's important we're ready," he said.
If you find a stink bug, take a photo of it and report it to the Exotic Pest and Disease Hotline on 0800 80 99 66.
- The Marlborough Express