'Quite a nasty pest': Watch out for the brown marmorated stink bugs

Prince Edward Islanders are being asked to be on the lookout for an invasive bug that feeds on crops.

Marmorated stink bugs have become a problem in the U.S. and southern Ontario

The stink bug feeds on fruits and vegetables. (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada)

Prince Edward Islanders are being asked to be  on the lookout for a bug that feeds on crops.

The brown marmorated stink bug arrived in Pennsylvania in 1998 and the pest has since established itself through the mid-Atlantic United States and into southern Ontario.

The bug came from East Asia. It is a little over a half-inch in length and width, and is distinguishable from other bugs because of its size and the stripes on its antennae. 

Stink bugs have spread into Ontario, after coming into Pennsylvania in 1998. (Matt Rourke/The Associated Press File)

It feeds on fruits and vegetables using its proboscis, a sucking mouthpart similar to a mosquito's.

"They do a lot of damage. Specifically to a lot of agricultural crops," said Christine Noronha, a research scientist in etymology for the science and technology branch of Agriculture and Agri-food Canada.

'Rot from inside'

In addition to eating the fruit, it leaves saliva which causes extensive damage to the plants.

"The cells around where the saliva is, and their mouthpart is, it starts to disintegrate," she said. 

"So even when they take their mouthpart out it's still going to continue to dissolve the tissue around there so it starts to rot from inside."

Apples are damaged after stink bugs sink their teeth into the fruit. (Ontario Ministry of Agriculture)

The puncture marks they leave after they have fed are also entry points for disease.

"It is quite a nasty pest, because of the type of damage it does," Noronha said.

'Move quite fast'

Noronha said that there haven't been any sightings in P.E.I. or the Atlantic provinces so far this year, but that if someone thinks they see one, they should take a picture and send it to her.

She said that if the bugs were discovered quickly enough, they could be stopped before they became established in the area, and because of the weather, they wouldn't be as serious a problem as in a warmer climate.

"It would have just one generation here if it came up here cause it's pretty cold," she said.

A brown marmorated stink bug egg mass. (Ontario Ministry of Agriculture)

"But you know one female can lay up to 400 eggs in it's lifetime. That's a lot of eggs, so they can multiple and move quite fast. They do fly around as well."

Noronha said there is no cause for concern but that her department wants to stay proactive in trying to contain the pests.

"It could cause problems to a lot of the growers who grow these different crops."

Anyone who finds a brown marmorated stink bug on P.E.I. is asked to contact Noronha by email.

With files from CBC: Island Morning