Uninvited and unwanted, this stealth migrant slipped into the United States a dozen years ago hidden in cargo from Asia. Like other visitors to our shores, it quickly prospered, finding outlets for its considerable energies in the fruit orchards and vegetable fields of the mid-Atlantic states and soon expanding its area of operations to 39 states and the District of Columbia.
But instead of harvesting apple, grape and peach crops, it ate them, angering farmers so much the growers turned to Congress for help. We are talking, of course, about the stink bug, harmless to humans, unless, of course, you consider eating our fruits and vegetables a form of harm. They are almost pathetically easy to kill, but if you do so by crushing their bodies, you get a quick course in how the bug got its name.
The federal government has warned that this summer’s infestation may be the worst ever, threatening to do tens of millions of dollars’ worth of damage to crops in the mid-Atlantic area. Choosing to set up shop in the D.C. area has proven to be a mistake, because they have run afoul of a powerful local congressman, Rep. Frank Wolf, a Republican. His Virginia district includes some of the state’s richest farmland, where the locals despise crop-eating bugs, and wealthiest suburbs, where bugs of any kind in the manse are quickly dispatched.
Wolf engineered a bill directing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to declare the stink bug Public Pest No. 1, although the state of Florida has creatures that would certainly vie for that distinction, and to find ways to kill it.
The Ag Department has put four agencies on the job of killing or curtailing the stink bug. One potential means of control worries us. The department is studying an Asian bee that feeds on stink-bug eggs. Before we import this Asian bee, let’s be sure we’re not replacing one pest with a greater one.