Quebec farmers should prepare for Asian stink bug invasion, says biologist

For people, the bug is annoying because of the foul smell it lets out when it's crushed. But for farmers, it can be a disaster.

Insect first arrived in North America in the 1990s, has been in Montreal since 2014

The brown marmorated stink bug is an invasive pest that attacks tree fruits, berries, grapes, vegetables, corn and ornamental plants. (Matt Rourke/Associated Press)

In Montreal, the brown marmorated stink bug is an annoyance, but soon it could soon be munching on Quebec crops and take its place as a major nuisance in the province.

Should farmers panic?

"Yes," said Jacques Brodeur, a biologist and professor at l'Université de Montréal. 

"The scenario we observed in the [United] States and southern Ontario is very dramatic. If the same scenario occurs in Quebec, it will be very detrimental to the growers."

The bug — which can travel vast distances in trains, planes and trucks — first entered North America in the 1990s. It was detected in Ontario in 2010.

For people, the bug is only slightly more annoying than most because of the foul smell it lets out when it's crushed.

But for farmers, it can have serious financial implications.

Biologist Jacques Brodeur studies the brown marmorated stink bug and said that in the next few years it could move off-island and into rural areas. ( Verity Stevenson/CBC)

Brodeur said the insect feeds on fruit crops, but also likes lettuce, soy, corn and plants in general, and it can grow to the size of a quarter.

In addition to eating the fruit, the bug leaves saliva which causes extensive damage to the plants. The saliva makes fruit look like its rotting, leaving it unattractive to consumers.

An infestation in the U.S., cost the mid-Atlantic apple industry $37 million in 2010 alone. The New Zealand government commissioned a study that found losses could reach into the billions of dollars if an infestation were to go untreated.

The situation in Quebec  

The insect was first spotted in Montreal's Plateau-Mont-Royal borough in 2014. Since then, according to data compiled by the city, its population has more than tripled. 

While the brown marmorated stink bug is in urban areas, its impact will be minimal. 

But once enough of them cover the territory, they will move on to rural areas, Brodeur said. "That's when the problem starts."

For now, temperatures will keep the insect in southern Quebec. But thanks to climate change, it's expected temperatures will be warm enough for it to move in northern and eastern Quebec, where there are large tracts of farmland. 

Brodeur said the city is monitoring the invasion and placing traps.

Farmers looking to defend their crops, will need to use "insecticides, biological control and select plants that are resistant," Brodeur said.

With files from Verity Stevenson


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