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Discovery of stink bug in Duluth may mean problems for Northland homes, crops

DULUTH, Minn. — Its name is no joke.

The brown marmorated stink bug really does give off a stink when disturbed. Even more disturbing: It's been discovered in St. Louis County, Minn., for the first time.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has confirmed the detection of the bug, identified by a University of Minnesota Duluth biology student in UMD's insect collection. The bug originally was collected in January 2011 inside a Duluth home by another UMD biology student. The farthest north in Minnesota it had been found previously was Chisago County.

"This is a pretty serious home invader," said MDA plant protection director Geir Friisoe, similar to lady bugs and boxelder bugs.

But the real potential danger is to orchards and row crops such as tomatoes, beans, green peppers and corn, he said. First, the population will build indoors, and once it's large enough it will start damaging crops. As the population builds, Friisoe said, the bugs look for indoor winter habitats to stay warm.

"People are expecting this insect to arrive in Minnesota," he said. "It's been a very, very serious pest on the East Coast. The fact that it's showing up as fast as it is is a big deal."

Student and research assistant Ryan Lumen was preparing a display of insects from the Hemiptera family recently and was going through a stink bug collection. He had gone through about 60 when he came across the brown marmorated.

"It really stood out because it's a good size, quite bigger than the rest," Lumen said.

He showed it to his entomology instructor, Rachel MaKarrall, who confirmed his suspicions and sent photos to other experts for further confirmation. Her students are studying certain bugs because of their nature as invasive species.

"It's bad news, but it's nice for our collection," MaKarrall said.

A few have been found in southern Minnesota, all within buildings. The adult bugs are a half-inch long, speckled brown and shaped like a shield. Their difference from other brown bugs is an alternating black-and-white pattern on the margins of its abdomen and dark antennae with light-colored bands.

The bug is native to Asia, but since its discovery in Pennsylvania, it has been found in most areas of the country, according to the MDA.

Friisoe suggests good screens to keep the bug out, with other entry points sealed. For those in agriculture, the task will be more difficult, he said.

The stink bug invasion could begin in Minnesota homes in about two years, Friisoe said. Lumen, a Superior native, plans to look for more marmorated stink bugs inside as the weather warms.

The discovery is "cool," he said, "but it will be a pretty big deal if there ends up being a lot of them (because of their damage to crops). I'm nervous about that."

And when they invade homes, he said, "They do it en masse. They can get caught in vacuums. If they get ground up, they can make things smell for a while."

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