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Sterling International out to catch a bug

Fri., March 4, 2011, 4:21 p.m.

A Spokane Valley company will release a trap this summer to catch stink bugs. (Brian Plonka / The Spokesman Review)
A Spokane Valley company will release a trap this summer to catch stink bugs. (Brian Plonka / The Spokesman Review)

Spokane Valley company Sterling International has set its sights on its next six-legged pest, the stink bug.

For more than 20 years Sterling has been selling Rescue-brand traps targeting yellowjackets, hornets, beetles and wasps. This summer it will release its first tube-shaped trap aimed at stink bugs.

Stephanie Cates, marketing director for Sterling, said this will be the first commercially produced trap developed just for stink bugs.

The plastic trap will sell for about $20 in home and garden stores and big-box locations.

Cates said the strongest interest for the product will be in the Atlantic and Northeast regions. That’s where farmers, orchardists and homeowners are dealing with invasions of the brown marmorated stink bug, the chief culprit among several types of insects carrying the “stink bug” name.

The traps are designed only for residential use, said Cates. “We may look at an industrial-size trap down the road,” she said.

The dime-sized, brown-backed bug earns its name for the scent released when it’s squashed; some compare it to the smell of sweaty feet.

They are not native to the United States and came from Asia originally. Experts say they came to the United States in the 1980s, probably first landing in Pennsylvania.

Their eradication is difficult, as no other U.S. insect or animal is its natural predator. Researchers are testing ways to introduce its one known enemy, an Asian wasp, as a deterrent.

While posing no threat to humans, stink bugs can descend by the thousands on farms or fields, injecting enzymes into fruits and vegetables, leaving them blotched and rotting.

In cool weather the bugs head indoors in large numbers, then gather together for warmth. They often release a powerful scent when threatened, said Cates.

Stink bugs don’t pose a threat in the Northwest yet, said Jay F. Brunner, an entomology professor at Washington State University’s Wenatchee tree fruit research and extension center.

“They’ve been found so far in the Portland area, and then last year in Vancouver (Wash.),” he said. “Eventually they’ll find their way to Eastern Washington. They’re great hitchhikers.”

Sterling’s plans to take down the stink bug began in 2002 when its staff began working with university researchers who identified the stink bug as a potential disaster for some crops.

As it does with its other traps, Sterling developed a stink bug-specific blend of pheromones, the natural scents and chemicals emitted by one insect to sexually arouse another.

Cates said federal regulators several weeks ago approved Sterling’s researchers to conduct in-house studies in a Spokane-area lab to fine-tune the mixture of attractant that will sit inside the traps and capture the stink bugs.

She noted also that the attractant will have a limited range, generally luring bugs from 20 feet or closer.

The plan is to use an attractant that will be effective for up to seven weeks, she said.


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