Europe is experiencing a stink bag epidemic. Italy has been hit especially hard with some growers losing close to 100% of their crops. Its estimated stink bugs have caused 350 million (Euros) in damage so far. Farmer and growers have named it the ‘super pest’ because of the scale of damage.
Though there are no reported cases of the stink bug in New Zealand it is a very real threat. The way they spread is human-assisted, meaning they hop on and off trains, cars and other vehicles, meaning they can travel long distances quickly.
Some facts about stink bugs
- They are approximately the same size as an ant making it easy for them to hide in minuscule spaces.
- They reproduce quickly and one bug can become 125 bugs in just one year.
- During the winter months, they tend to move into homes and businesses to escape the cold.
- Stink bugs eat many different fruits including kiwifruit, pears, apples, peaches, grapes and nectarines.
- Stink bugs got their name from the unpleasant odour they produce when threatened, in much the same way a skunk defends itself.
Biosecurity New Zealand is on high alert to stop this destructive bug from entering our shores. It is the hibernating that present the greatest risk as they can hide in vehicles, shipping containers and even online footwear purchases.
Stink bugs have been known to hide in vehicle door panels and right within car seats where it is hard to spot them.
With New Zealand crop sizes being relatively small there tends to be a mixed cropping system, similar to Italy. A mixed crop system is where you see different fruits growing closely together, making it easy for insects to move around and feed on their preferred fruit.
So, what is being done to stop the bugs?
New Zealand Plant & Food Research scientist, Max Suckling, spent Italy’s summer working on new traps and biological controls so that if the stink bug does reach New Zealand, we will have ways of detecting and trapping them.
Dr Suckling and his team have had success with a pheromone trap which is catching stink bugs in much higher numbers than more traditional bug traps. Nets can also help but this is not an option for all crops.
Dr Lara Maistrello is Italy’s leading stink bug expert and she is pinning high hopes on the samurai wasp that lay its eggs inside stink bug eggs. Think ‘pregnant Sigourney Weaver in Alien’ and that’s pretty much what the samurai wasp does to stink bugs!
How can you help?
MPI (Ministry for Primary Industries) is urging people to be vigilance and report any possible sightings using the hotline on 0800 80 99 66.
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