West Virginia University is calling out the troops to help defeat the scourge of summer, the brown marmorated stinkbug.

To win the fight against the pest, WVU is breeding spined soldier bugs, a similar species to the stinkbug that feeds on other insects.

“We’re trying to produce large numbers of (solider bugs) in labs and get them out onto the fields,” said Vicki Kondo, entomology research assistant. “Soldier bugs are sold on the Internet but often they are not available in mass numbers because they’re field harvested.”

She said the harvested soldier bugs, which are native to North America, don’t always consume hated brown stinkbugs when other insects are nearby.

“We hope with enough time, the soldier bugs we produce will acquire a taste for the marmorated stinkbug.”

Stinkbug control was just one of the topics discussed by researchers from WVU’s Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design and WVU Extension during Friday’s 12th annual Organic Field Day at WVU’s Organic Research Farm.

Exhibits and workshops were set up around the farm to educate farmers and gardeners from the region about soil testing and quality, animal nutrition, biofuels, and wool production from organic sheep.

The workshops were followed by wagon tours around the different farm facilities. The guests were later served an all-organic dinner of lamb burgers, veggie quiche, fried green tomatoes and fresh peaches.

WVU’s Organic Research Project was launched in the 1990s for researchers to help agriculture producers and horticulturists in the region, said Jim Kotcon, associate professor of plant pathology at the Division of Plant and Soil Science who presided over Friday’s event. WVU’s farm has followed national organic guidelines since 1999 and was certified as an organic farm by the USDA in 2003.

The mission of the Organic Research Project, which also aligns with WVU’s Strategic Plan 2020, is to use its research to provide best-practice recommendations for West Virginia’s organic farmers and home gardeners. The research can have global impact: Infestations such as the stinkbug can be threats to farmers’ livelihoods.

“The EPA and USDA have declared an emergency because there is no pesticide proven to be effective,” said Dr. Yong-Lak Park, WVU assistant professor of entomology.

Park said that pesticides are largely ineffective because of the way the bugs feed. They avoid sprayed-on toxins while using needle-like mouthparts to extract sap from plants. They also can populate an area rapidly.

“They lay eggs in a clutch,” Park said. “One female can lay up to 25 eggs and if the weather is good they can hatch in a week.”

The brown pesky stinkbug is native to East Asia and was first sighted in the U.S. in Allentown, Pa. in the 1990s. The pest has been in West Virginia since 2004.

“We are currently conducting a genetic analysis to determine precisely where they are from,” said Park. “We believe they are a Chinese or Korean strain but we won’t know until the end of this year,” he said.



By Conor Griffith
University Relations/News

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