U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) researchers have deciphered the chemical signals the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) uses to attract other stink bugs, opening the door to development of traps and technologies that should help keep the invasive pest out of backyards, gardens, homes and agricultural operations.
A study detailing the chemical structure of the stink bug's "aggregation pheromone," how this attractant can be synthesized, and results of field trials has been published in the Journal of Natural Products by scientists with USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and their partners. ARS is USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency.
"The stink bug is a widespread nuisance and a serious threat to producers of apples, peaches, corn, soybeans and a number of other important agricultural products," said ARS Administrator Chavonda Jacobs-Young. "This research demonstrates how the dedication, skill and commitment of ARS researchers is addressing the changing needs of society and the problems faced not only by the agricultural community, but the public at large."
The BMSB is native to Asia. Since its discovery in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 2001, it has devastated orchards, crops and fields and become a terrible nuisance in gardens, backyards and homes. It has an appetite for up to 300 different plants. Estimates of economic damage vary, but in 2010 it was blamed for causing an estimated $37 million in losses in the Mid-Atlantic region to apples alone. It also has spread to more than 40 states and parts of Canada.
As part of the study, ARS researchers collected airborne extracts released by the BMSB to search for the pheromones the bug uses to attract its fellow stink bugs to feeding sites. They found two attractant chemicals produced exclusively by adult males, synthesized them and counted the number of stink bugs caught in traps supplied with those attractants as lures. Results showed the compounds were effective throughout the summer at capturing males, females and nymphs, and were three times more effective when combined in one trap than when used individually.
The identification and synthesis of the chemicals was led by Ashot Khrimian, and the field trials were overseen by Don Weber, both ARS scientists in the agency's Invasive Insect Biocontrol and Behavior Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland. Coauthors include ARS researchers Aijun Zhang, Karl E. Vermillion, Shyam Shirali, Filadelfo Guzman, Tracy C. Leskey and Jeffrey Aldrich (ARS, retired).
Weber led another group that has published a companion paper in the Journal of Economic Entomology on the synergistic attraction of the newly discovered pheromone with another attractant. The combination attracted more stink bugs than either lure on its own, and it could be used in commercial lures and traps throughout the growing season. Project partners included researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the Institute of Cellular and Organismic Biology in Taipei, Taiwan.