Sunday, March 18, 2018

Infestation of stink bugs is coming to California

n the 1970s they warned us the Africanized killer bees would eventually arrive in California, sting us all to death and then, even worse, register as Independents. They arrived in the 1990s but turned out to have even less of an impact than “Gremlins 2: The New Batch.” Now bark beetles are killing whole swaths of trees and our forests are more full of borers than happy hour at an actuary convention. 

The latest devastating infestation is by Asian stink bugs, an invasive species now found in almost all U.S. states. It has no local predator to slow its buffet of American peach crops, almonds, apples, grapes, tomatoes; basically it is a sea of tiny, unstoppable vegans. The only thing worse would be if they could speak, shaming us carnivores in one wee but unified voice. 

It is believed they arrived on the east coast in a pallet offloaded from a Chinese ship, and like Annie from the musical, decided “I think I’m gonna like it here.” In some areas, they have reproduced in such numbers that homeowners have had their houses taken over. Scenes are described of people push-brooming hordes of stink bugs out the door even as more fly right in. Somewhere Stephen King is smiling.

The idea has been floated to bring in the stink bugs’ natural nemesis from Asia, a certain wasp, which tends to eat the bugs’ eggs. But the wasp has no predator in America, either. This technique of solving one problem with a worse one is a time-honored one in the annals of invasive species history, and human romance, for that matter. 

I have never been a fan, generally, of creatures which can be described as having a “long, straw-like appendage.” I am sure in mating season this goes over big, but the average apricot farmer is on my side. If only we could pit the killer bees against the stink bugs. It would get ugly, and it would stink, and I’m sure there’s a Congress joke in here somewhere, but at least bees are useful. 

Like cicadas, stink bugs are playing the long game. There is no eradicating them at this point, although there is some evidence that birds are beginning to enjoy this new food source. Well, as is true with so many things in nature, love and politics, there is no accounting for taste. 

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