By Richard Levine
The brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) has been annoying homeowners and fruit and vegetable growers for years, ever since it made its way to North America from Asia in 1998, where it was fist spotted in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Since then it’s been spotted in at least 36 other states. Although they cause no harm to people or buildings, their invasions have inspired serious animosity and even creativity, such as this rock video by Frankentractor and Friends (below), or this humorous video on how to control them by Mike Raupp, “The Bug Guy” from the University of Maryland (also below).
But now there’s evidence that these pesky stinkers might actually be good for something. According to an article published this year in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America, Mike Raupp and colleagues conclude that they may actually help feed some wasps and ants by wounding plants, which then leak sap that the wasps and ants can feed on.
In the article “Invasive Stink Bug Wounds Trees, Liberates Sugars, and Facilitates Native Hymenoptera,” the authors report observing stink bugs feeding through the bark of trees and noticing several species of wasps and ants at the feeding sites, which led them to deduce that they were feeding on the sap from the wounded trees.
“The invasive brown marmorated stink bug, H. halys, is economically damaging and has the potential to introduce disease to woody trees as it feeds,” they write. “Resources made available by its feeding, however, directly increase the carbohydrate resources available to insects that are known to provide important ecological services, including biological control of pests and the pollination of plants. H. halys may therefore have an indirect positive role in invaded ecosystems, in addition to its direct negative effect on plants.”
This study shows how truly complex ecosystems can be, and how even damaging invasive species like the BMSB can be beneficial to useful pollinators or insects that attack other insects such as wasps. Don’t get me wrong, I still think these suckers stink, but maybe not as much as I once did.
Richard Levine is Communications Program Manager at the Entomological Society of America and editor of the Entomology Today Blog.