By Caitlin Gibson
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — After a relative reprieve from the scourge of the brown marmorated stink bug — the infamous pest known for devastating crops and emitting a pungent odor when crushed or irritated — experts caution that it will likely make a reappearance in the mid-Atlantic area this year.
The comeback would come two years after many farmers throughout the region saw their crops extensively damaged by swarms of the brown, shield-shaped insects.
The stink bugs, known to feed on over 300 varieties of host plants, resulted in about $37 million in losses from damage to apple crops alone in 2010; crops of raspberries and blackberries were also ravaged, and many organic farmers saw significant damage to crops of tomatoes, peppers and beans, experts reported.
Lawmakers, entomologists and the agricultural community scrambled for a solution to a problem that was only expected to worsen. A special exemption was approved in 2011 by the Environmental Protection Agency for the use of a highly toxic insecticide to help growers fight the insects. Homeowners braced themselves for the unwelcome presence of the bugs, which seek sheltered places — such as houses, garages and barns — to hibernate for the winter. Farmers prepared for another year of battle in their fields, orchards and vineyards.
But then scientists and farmers alike noticed a sudden and dramatic decrease in the number of stink bugs present during the fall of 2011. Entomologists still aren't sure how to explain the change. It's possible, they said, a succession of strong storms late that summer culled the population.
"Just when it was getting really bad, it started getting better," said Doug Fabbioli, a fruit grower and winemaker who owns Fabbioli Cellars in Leesburg, Va.
But now, scientists caution, the insects appear to be resurgent.
Christopher Bergh, a Virginia Tech associate professor of entomology, said the overwintering population of bugs this past fall was "substantially larger" than that observed in 2011.