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Fanning out to agricultural fields and botanical gardens, the team searched for the bug’s tiny clusters of barrel-shaped eggs.They checked whether any had been invaded by parasitoid wasps, which inject their own eggs into the stinkbug’s, leaving larvae that eat the developing bugs before chewing their way out.(Exterminators often recommend that homeowners vacuum up the insects instead.) Native to Asia, the bug was first spotted in the United States in 1998; it has since reached 43 states and Washington, D.
Her team had tried without success to establish the fungus, but once it arrived, she spent years making sure it wasn’t harming local caterpillar species.
“We were lucky,” she says: The natives were mostly unaffected. Entomologist Tim Haye of the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International in Delémont, Switzerland, and his collaborators spent a decade developing plans to release the European parasitoid wasp , a canola plant pest, in Canadian prairies.
Then in 2009, the wasp appeared on its own, in Quebec in Canada. Moreover, such invaders don’t always prove fortuitous.
A team led by ARS entomologist Keith Hopper investigated the parasitoid wasp ), but lab tests revealed it had a broad range of aphid hosts, including some native ones. Now that it’s established, Heimpel’s group is studying whether native aphid populations are in danger.
Then in 2014, Hoelmer got an unexpected phone call.
Elijah Talamas, a taxonomist at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in Gainesville, had been helping another ARS team identify native wasps parasitizing stinkbug eggs in Maryland.In this orchard, managed by the Rutgers University Agricultural Research and Extension Center, the mottled, shield-shaped stinkbug is a research subject.In surrounding farms and homes, however, it’s a despised invasive pest known for its indiscriminate appetite, its tendency to escape cold weather by crowding into homes—sometimes by the thousands—and the pungent, cilantrolike odor it releases when crushed.Classical biological control has logged some undeniable successes, such the release of the South American wasp ).That project preserved a staple crop and saved an estimated 20 million lives, earning its architect, Swiss entomologist Hans Rudolf Herren, the 1995 World Food Prize.But many of the best-known biocontrol efforts are the historical disasters: the mongooses unleashed for rat control in Hawaii in 1883 that devastated native birds and turtles, and the cane toads sent to Australia in 1935 that failed to control sugarcane-destroying beetles but—because the toads themselves are poisonous—killed native reptiles, frogs, birds, and mammals that ate the toads.As the field matured, many nations began to strictly regulate the release of biocontrol agents—which can include insects, fungi, and bacteria—and required studies to predict potential “nontarget effects.” As Weber puts it, “People are a lot more responsible now than when they were running around releasing mongooses.” In the United States, researchers must submit a proposal to USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). But organisms have a way of sidestepping bureaucracy.Honey bee colonies can have populations over 75,000, while wasps' colonies tend to have fewer than 10,000 individuals.Queen wasps build a nest for their colony, while worker honey bees create and maintain hives.Like many invasive species, the brown marmorated stinkbug has no major enemies in its new home to keep its population in check.So in 2005, entomologist Kim Hoelmer and his team at the U. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Newark, Delaware, turned to a strategy known as classical biological control: They traveled to Asia to find natural enemies of the stinkbug that they might release in the United States.