The Brown Wasps Essay

While honey bees can sting only once and die after attacking, a single wasp is capable of stinging multiple times.

The bugs have sunk their needle-sharp stylets into the peaches, creating wounds that ooze a clear, sugary goo; form corky brown blemishes; and leave the trees more vulnerable to infection.

(Exterminators often recommend that homeowners vacuum up the insects instead.) Native to Asia, the bug was first spotted in the United States in 1998; it has since reached 43 states and Washington, D.

C., attacking fruit trees, corn, soybeans, berries, tomatoes, and other crops.

Like many invasive species, the brown marmorated stinkbug has no major enemies in its new home to keep its population in check.

So in 2005, entomologist Kim Hoelmer and his team at the U. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Newark, Delaware, turned to a strategy known as classical biological control: They traveled to Asia to find natural enemies of the stinkbug that they might release in the United States.That proposal must include data from lab experiments gauging whether their candidate is likely to eat or parasitize species other than the targeted pest. Over and over, potentially beneficial species have popped up uninvited, likely reaching new continents by the same shadowy routes of international trade and travel that spread pests.Three groups then vet the evidence of its safety: a scientific review panel with representatives from Canada and Mexico, an APHIS official, and sometimes the U. Entomologist Paul De Bach of the University of California, Riverside, in a 1971 essay, called this phenomenon fortuitous biological control. Recently, the North American leaf beetle (, which kills the gypsy moth in its caterpillar stage—started to spread around New England in the late 1980s, “it was very exciting,” says entomologist Ann Hajek of Cornell University.Talamas, an expert on species, had recognized that some were samurai wasps. He had spent years studying the wasp in the lab to make sure that, if released, it would do its job without harming native species. Genetic tests confirmed that the wasps in Maryland hadn’t escaped from any of his quarantined strains. Over the decades, a variety of uninvited biocontrol candidates have popped up on new continents, including a fungus that kills forest-stripping gypsy moths and a beetle that devours allergy-inducing ragweed. “We’ve had this mindset that natural enemies would be less likely to establish” than invasive pests, he says.“The examples definitely are piling up,” says Donald Weber, an ARS entomologist in College Park, Maryland, whose team found the first U. But sometimes, “It might be fairly easy.” Those unexpected arrivals can unsettle scientists and regulators.Wasps are narrow-waisted, have four wings and may be brightly colored, with black and yellow patterns.Wasps and bees also differ in lifestyle and habits.In this orchard, managed by the Rutgers University Agricultural Research and Extension Center, the mottled, shield-shaped stinkbug is a research subject.In surrounding farms and homes, however, it’s a despised invasive pest known for its indiscriminate appetite, its tendency to escape cold weather by crowding into homes—sometimes by the thousands—and the pungent, cilantrolike odor it releases when crushed.But many of the best-known biocontrol efforts are the historical disasters: the mongooses unleashed for rat control in Hawaii in 1883 that devastated native birds and turtles, and the cane toads sent to Australia in 1935 that failed to control sugarcane-destroying beetles but—because the toads themselves are poisonous—killed native reptiles, frogs, birds, and mammals that ate the toads.As the field matured, many nations began to strictly regulate the release of biocontrol agents—which can include insects, fungi, and bacteria—and required studies to predict potential “nontarget effects.” As Weber puts it, “People are a lot more responsible now than when they were running around releasing mongooses.” In the United States, researchers must submit a proposal to USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). But organisms have a way of sidestepping bureaucracy.


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