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Finally: Stink bug killer discovered, and it's from Asia, too

FILE - This Thursday, April 14, 2011 file photo shows a brown marmorated stink bug at a Penn State research station in Biglerville, Pa. The bug is causing millions of dollars in damages to crops in the mid-Atlantic region and may be just getting started. It's now been spotted in 33 states, including every one east of the Mississippi River and as far west as California. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Federal scientists who for years have been searching for a natural killer of the brown marmorated stink bug accidentally imported from Asia have finally gotten a lucky break.

A tiny wasp that lays its eggs in stink bug egg masses, also used to feed its babies, has been discovered around Washington and its suburbs. And just like the stink bug, it was accidentally imported from Asia.

"It hitched a ride somehow, it ended up here somehow, we don't know how," said one of the nation's leading BMSP experts, Tracy Leskey, of the Agriculture Department and a leader in the "Stop BMSP" program.

She said it was found around in Beltsville, Md., last year and this year in Winchester, Va., and Laytonsville, Md. It was tested on stink bug eggs this year. The results were wonderful, at least for farmers and homeowners in the 42 states the pest has invaded since landing in Allentown, Pa. in the late 1990s from Asia.

"It will probably aid in helping managing the [stink bug] population because they are a potent natural enemy in the native range of this wasp in Asia," she told Secrets. It is a version of an Asian wasp the USDA has been testing.

But the good news doesn't end there. Leskey said that native foes are also starting to take on the dime-sized stink bug that can coat homes and farm crops and that emit a cilantro scent when scared or squished.

And the cold winter in some areas resulted in a 90 percent kill. "It did a number on the stink bugs," she said.

"Mother nature gave us sort of a break with with cold winter as well as giving native natural enemies time to learn that they are a good meal," said Leskey.

In this Thursday, April 14, 2011, Tom Haas displays an apple from last years crop that shows damage caused by brown marmorated stink bugs at Cherry Hill Orchards Inc., in Lancaster, Pa. The relatively new pest originally from Asia is threatening to wreak havoc on mid-Atlantic orchards. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The bad news: Prime stink bug season is upon us. Leskey, a research entomologist at USDA's Appalachian Fruit Research Station in Kearneysville WV., said that millions of bugs are making their move from woods and gardens to wintering homes. The peak season is Sept. 21-Oct. 5, always around the fall equinox.

To help track developments, she has asked homeowners and businesses to fill out surveys each year and she has a new one this year.

In this Thursday, April 14, 2011, shown is are brown marmorated stink bug egs at a Penn State research station in Biglerville, Pa. The relatively new pest originally from Asia is threatening to wreak havoc on mid-Atlantic orchards. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

"The invasive brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) has caused headaches for homeowners and businesses due to their entry into homes and buildings during the autumn, often in very large numbers, and their entry living spaces throughout the winter and spring," said the new survey. "The BMSB IPM Working Group would like to know more about how you deal with BMSB nuisance problems at your home and/or business. Your responses to our survey will help guide researchers on key issues they should pursue to better combat this problem. Thanks so much for your assistance!"

The survey is here.

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.