Nova Scotia

'They have piercing, sucking mouths' and could be bound for Nova Scotia

Nova Scotians are being asked to stay on the lookout for an agricultural pest called the brown marmorated stink bug that's known to turn perfectly good fruit "into a smoothie."

The brown marmorated stink bug has been ruining U.S. crops and could do the same in Canada

Entomologist Suzanne Blatt checks a crop for signs of stink bug. (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada)

Nova Scotians are being asked to stay on the lookout for an agricultural pest called the brown marmorated stink bug that's known to turn perfectly good fruit "into a smoothie."

The invasive insect has the potential to destroy apple, peach and pear crops, soft-skinned fruits like tomatoes, and vegetables.

"They have piercing, sucking mouth parts like a big straw," said Suzanne Blatt, an entomologist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

"They poke the straw through the flesh of the fruit and go down below the skin, turn whatever flesh is underneath that skin into a smoothie. Then, they suck it back up."

Nova Scotia bound?

Established populations have been found in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia. While not detected in Nova Scotia yet, Blatt said it's only a matter of time before the transient bugs make an appearance.

In 2015, scientists were able to trace one that made its way from the U.S. to P.E.I.

"It was a long-haul trucker who was travelling up through the Eastern Seaboard of the United States," said Blatt. 

"The insect hitchhiked onto his clothes or his vehicle and he found it when he got home to Prince Edward Island."

The stink bug destroys apple, peach and pear crops. (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada)

Gobbling up apples

Originally from Asia, the bug only appeared in the U.S. within the last 20 years or so. 

It caused the apple industry in that country to suffer a production loss of $37 million in 2010, said Agriculture Canada.

That's because once the bug has chowed down on an apple, a crater-like brown spot forms on the fruit's flesh, making it impossible for farmers to sell.

This year, 43 states reported having the insects and they're slowly making their way into Canada.

"If we have a warmer spring, they will reach their reproductive capacity quicker in their development and they will start reproducing," said Blatt.

Searching for a predator

The longer it stays warm, the greater chance the population will grow.

Controlling the potentially destructive insect is not easy. Parasitoid wasps found in Asia are the bug's only enemies. The U.S. is trying to import the predator, but Blatt said they're approaching it differently in Canada.

"We're looking for related species of parasitoid [wasp] which are known to affect the eggs of the brown marmorated stink bug," she said. 

"We're looking to see if they'll transfer, or host switch from the native stink bugs that we have in Canada onto the brown marmorated."

Once a similar predator is found in Canada, Blatt said it will be released in affected areas across the country in hopes of keeping the stink bug population down.

Spot a little stinker? Here's what to do:

Agriculture Canada wants people to keep an eye out for stink bugs. Blatt said they've likely spent the winter in homes or storage sheds and will start making their way outside this spring.

Distinctive white bandings on the legs and antennae, as well as inward-pointing white triangles between dark markings along the edge of the abdomen distinguish the brown marmorated from other stink bugs.

If people find the bug, Blatt said they can take it to the Kentville Research and Development Centre or the Nova Scotia Museum.

"Or if you can't make the journey, simply get a good picture focusing on the antennae and the legs so that we can see the colour and then we'll have the information we can use to determine whether it likely is the brown marmorated," she said.