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Controlling Stinkbugs With Their Own Stink

Jul 17, 2014 10:24 AM EDT

Researchers have determined the chemical architectures of two key pheromone components used by the brown marmorated stink bug - an insect that has invaded a significant portion of the United States and Canada. Knowing just what makes the stink bug stink, experts now hope to use these pheromones to monitor and even control populations.

Like most stink bugs, the brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys) has a shield-shaped body and is about the size of a small pebble. Native to Asia, the bug is generally a pest to fruit and soybean farmers. However, in the United States, this invasive species has few natural controls to keep populations in check, and has quickly spread to an estimated 40 states as well as Canada since first discovered in Pennsylvania in the 1990s.

Spreading from ravaged orchards to homes and gardens too, this invasive species is now a common pest, noisily flapping around while it looks for some sweet fruit in the pantry. What's worse, the bug lives up to its name, emitting a foul odor when threatened, almost like a tiny skunk.

Interestingly, the bug also emits a different stink, a subtle pheromone, when trying to attract other stink bugs for mating purposes. Analyzing this attractive stink, researchers from the US Department of Agriculture have identified two key components that draw fellow stinkbugs in.

Recreating these pheromones in a lab, the researchers then tested the stink in a few field trials overseen by experts from the Agriculture Research Service's Invasive Insect Biocontrol and Behavior Laboratory in Maryland.

Results published in the Journal of Natural Products detail how each of the pheromones alone were effective at attracting both male and female stinkbugs, and were three times more effective when combined in the same trap.

A synthesized addition to these pheromones described in the Journal of Economic Entomology was found to make the attraction even more effective - opening up opportunities for traps and lures to be produced at a commercial level.

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