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Stink Bug Invasion: Are They Taking Over the World?

When we talk about changes in nature and transformative processes in biomes, we usually look at such events on a very large timescale; very rarely in the lifespan of a single human. However, the climate change that we’re experiencing in the 21st century has affected many environments; like the Eastern European country of Georgia. And bear in mind, we’re not talking about the US state. 


There’s a region in Georgia that’s known for its production of hazelnuts, among other agricultural products. However, their production efforts have recently been disrupted by a bug that’s become a daily feature of many people’s lives; the stink bug. In fact, this pest has wreaked havoc on crops all over the world, and we’ll explore one specific example of this below!


Abkhazia And Pests


This western region of Georgia has definitely seen its load of issues, including war and troublesome local politics. However, their current crisis is much more natural - and it arrived in the shape of the pesky stink bug. This incredibly invasive species has become a resident of many countries all around the world, as many citizens of the United States could attest to. 


But richer countries like the US have the resources needed to combat these pests; on the other hand, poor agricultural countries like Georgia have been almost been brought into a state of emergency! Local officials from the Ministry of Agriculture claim that, out of 36,000 acres that they use for hazelnuts, about 80% were ruined by stink bugs in the past year alone!


Climate connection


Naturally, there are many beneficial insects that can be found in crop fields and yards all across the world. However, the stink bug is definitely not one of them. And that’s why their huge spread has been the topic of study in many research labs around the world. Experts from the USDA Midwest Climate Hub have concluded that the insane population rise that these bugs are experiencing is due to temperature increases. 


To be more specific, the fact that warm seasons last longer all around the world means that these pests have more time to complete reproduction cycles within a given year. And in areas that have become consistently warmer, these invaders thrive better than ever before. 


Trends are showing that the stink bugs are appearing much earlier each spring, all across the United States and the European continent. Plus, they start overwintering at a later date; which is something that will only increase in the future. 


It bears noting that this isn’t good news for Abkhazia, found on the shores of the Black Sea. This is an area that’s particularly vulnerable to climate extremes which are becoming more frequent than ever before. And the local farmers aren’t able to mount an effective response, seeing as they don’t have the required pesticides on hand. Plus, there are no research labs in universities in the area. The complicated political situation on the ground only serves to make the natural issues even bigger. Namely, Abkhazia is a region seeking independence from Georgia; making the relations with the central government understandably fragile. 



Stink Bug Origins 


The eponymous stink bug, biologically classified as the Halyomorpha halys, originally came from East Asia. This bug has used transport vehicles and cargo containers to spread across the rest of the world. And they’re incredibly deadly to crops, as there are 200 different host plants which they can feed on. Plus, outside of the Asian continent, this bug has no natural predators; explaining why nature has allowed it to thrive in Europe and the US. 


Naturally, wealthy countries across the world have had a better time in minimizing their populations, as well as the negative agricultural impacts they bring. But the complex pest control required to deal with this stinky menace isn’t something that poorer countries can do. And as we’ve mentioned above, Abkhazia hasn’t been able to gather the resources needed for adequate measures, seeing as they aren’t recognized by the majority of nations around the world. This contested republic only received some symbolic funding from the Russian Federation. 


Local Plights


Understandably, local farmers are up in arms. The owners of the usually productive hazelnut farms are complaining about the problems that the stink bugs have caused. Namely, they haven’t had significant yields from their fields for three years in a row. This has, in turn, left them without the money needed to pay their workers. That’s why most of the bustling hazelnut orchards have fallen on hard times. 


In fact, many among the local agricultural population are thinking of moving somewhere else; solely because of the stink bug invasion! These pests have made become such a threat to the local economy, that many farmers are considering leaving their homes and migrating to a new place. The experienced farmers are talking about the horror of these bugs; while they were always used to the sight of a couple of them, now they appear in menacing droves. 


Government Efforts


The local Abkhazian government has made some efforts to combat the bugs, but these have been inefficient, bordering on funny. In the past year, the government made a call to the public, and asked people to manually collect the stink bugs and proceed to burn them! For these efforts, the government offered to pay about $15 for each kilogram of bugs. While this program has continued in 2019 as well, it’s definitely not the way to combat climate change-induced pests. 


However, some of the farmers are organizing themselves and fighting back. Indeed, many of them have crafted hand-made insect traps specifically for the stink bug, in combination with light attractants and sprays.


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When we talk about changes in nature and transformative processes in biomes, we usually look at such events on a very large timescale; very rarely in...

Stink Bug Invasion: Are They Taking Over the World?

November 25, 2019

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