Trans-Tasman effort to keep out exotic stink bug

The brown marmorated stink bug could pose a risk to sorghum and pulses, and is a serious nuisance pest


Plant biosecurity experts from Australia attended a recent biosecurity exercise in New Zealand focusing on the prevention of incursions by the exotic brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys), a pest of concern to both countries.

Image of an adult brown marmorated stink bug

An adult brown marmorated stink bug.

PHOTO: Mohammed El Damir, Bugwood.org

The brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) originates from Asia and in recent decades has spread to North America and Europe. Known to affect about 300 plants including fruit, vegetables and ornamentals, this species has proved far more damaging and difficult to control than other stink bugs in crops in North America.

Dr Sharyn Taylor, Plant Health Australia’s (PHA) program manager for broadacre cropping, joined Exercise RAWAHO in Wellington to collaborate on measures to exclude the BMSB. She says that in addition to severely damaging fruit and vegetable crops, there are fears that BMSB might affect some grains.

About the pest

Image of a New Zealand poster of the brown marmorated stink bug

A poster that is part of the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries public awareness campaign targeting the brown marmorated stink bug.

Adult brown marmorated stink bugs (BMSB) are 12 to 17 millimetres long and mottled with a faint reddish tinge.

While there are species of stink bugs in Australia that may look similar, adult BMSB have distinctive black and white banding around the edge of the abdomen with white bands on the last two antennal segments.

In the US they seek shelter from the cold weather in crevices or protected areas of shipping containers, vehicles, boats, caravans, machinery and personal stored items.

BMSB are known to feed on more than 300 host plants, primarily fruit trees and woody ornamentals as well as field crops. Originally found in Asia, BMSB have aggressively invaded the US and could successfully establish in Australia if they find their way here.

“While we are unsure of its yield impact on sorghum and sunflowers, we do know that both crops are used as ‘trap’ crops in the US,” Dr Taylor says. “This means that these crops are preferred hosts, where BMSB aggregate in large numbers to feed.”

Since 2001, when BMSB arrived in the US, it has spread to more than 40 US states and added to crop production costs due to the increased need to spray to control them. This has led to disruption of integrated pest management programs and an emergence of outbreaks of secondary pests, such as green peach aphid, that were previously well managed.

Dr Taylor says that BMSB is also a considerable nuisance pest because adult bugs enter vehicles, homes and factories in large numbers in autumn months looking for places to shelter over winter.

“In some parts of the US the stink bug has bred huge populations. And, true to its name, when disturbed or crushed, it emits an unpleasant and long-lasting odour.

“It’s a pest we certainly don’t want in Australia, and New Zealand feels the same way. That’s why the New Zealand Government held a practice exercise on a BMSB incursion last year, and why PHA and the Australian Government sent people along.”

The BMSB does not limit its travel to the usual pathway of arriving with produce from overseas. In 2014 large numbers of BMSB were in consignments of imported new and used vehicles, boats and machinery in shipping containers arriving at Australia’s borders.

The Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources has since imposed strict control measures both before products leave the country of origin and when they arrive in Australia to prevent an incursion this way.

However, BMSB is also known to hitchhike in packing material and in the personal luggage of passengers, which is how it seems they travelled across the US.

With so many alternative pathways to enter Australia it is important for anyone importing goods or travelling from the US to keep an eye out for BMSB and report any suspicious finds to the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline (1800 084 881).

Image of brown marmorated stink bug eggs and nymphs

Brown marmorated stink bug eggs and nymphs.

PHOTO: David R. Lance, USDA Aphids PPQ, Bugwood.org

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