Crop and fruit devouring pest has potential to kick up a big stink
It's brown, has an insatiable appetite and stinks to high heaven.
New Zealand orchardists and vegetable growers are hoping the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) does not make its home here, having cut a swathe through crops in the United States and now threatening plants in Europe.
Native to China, Korea and Japan, the stink bug invaded the USA in 1996 and has spread to nine countries in Europe. It feeds on more than 300 host plants, including citrus, pipfruit, stonefruit, berries and grapes, corn, honeysuckle and roses.
In a move to prepare for the arrival of the pest, growers and the Government have signed an agreement called the BMSB Operational Agreement, which sets out who is responsible for doing what, and who will pay for which aspects of the programme.
By dint of good fortune and public attentiveness the bug has not established in New Zealand, but over the last 15 years it has been detected numerous times and destroyed.
Just last summer on four occasions a lone bug was found in places where international travellers were staying and exterminated. The public had reported the existence of the pest.
Horticulture New Zealand biosecurity manager Richard Palmer said the numbers of stink bugs arriving at the border were rising. They were "coming on everything" including luggage, vehicles, medical equipment, protein powder, roof tiles, furniture — even Barbie dolls.
BMSB Council chairman Alan Pollard, also chief executive of Pipfruit NZ, has seen the reports of $37 million damage to apple crops in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Delaware.
"If given the opportunity, BMSB has the potential to cause billions of damage to the New Zealand economy. They attack a wide range of New Zealand crops such as grapes, kiwifruit, apples, and stone fruit, corn and many other valuable crops,"
"BMSB can ruin peoples' gardens and when it gets cold, BMSB tends to bunch up in large numbers in dark spaces in homes and other dwellings, making it a huge public nuisance."
In the US, the bugs' habit of setting up home in their thousands in houses has given them a grim reputation. When picked up or disturbed they emit an offputting pungent odour, and when crushed they can excrete chemicals irritating to the skin.
The Ministry for Primary Industries said in a statement New Zealand's biosecurity system works to keep BMSB from establishing in New Zealand.
"There are strict requirements on the imports of risk goods, for example motor vehicles from the US, which undergo treatments prior to leaving the source country. There is also increased inspection of goods from countries with high population levels of BMSB."
One of the problems with dealing with the bug is the lack of an effective lure for the male at the start of the breeding season, but there are traps that work to capture both male and female bugs.
An application has been made to the Environmental Protection Authority to introduce a "Samurai" wasp which lays its eggs in the stink bug's eggs, destroying a large proportion of them.
Initial signatories to the operational agreement are Pipfruit NZ, Kiwifruit Vine Health Ltd, New Zealand Avocado Growers Association, Tomatoes New Zealand, Vegetables New Zealand, NZ Winegrowers, and MPI. Other industry groups impacted by BMSB will sign the operational agreement in the future.