Homeland Insect Invaders

These damaging intruders have recently made a home for themselves in the United States, raising concerns about vulnerable crops.

| July/August 2019

Photo by Adobe Stock/Marco Uliana

The concept of alien invaders has fascinated us for decades. Movies such as The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Thing, and Predator all have a common theme: Alien invaders aren’t a good thing.

Alien invaders are real, and here on our planet, but they aren’t from outer space. They’re insects from across the globe that enter the U.S. via produce shipments, as stowaways on equipment and packing materials, or as hitchhikers on ships’ hulls and decks and in aircraft landing gear. Some even enter the country as pets or research subjects.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors do their best to prevent new invasive pests from entering the country by conducting routine inspections and quarantines of imported shipments, but there’s simply no way to catch every one. Shipments are enormous, and a solitary insect has its choice of hiding places. Egg masses are even easier to overlook.

Many invasive insects have been in the U.S. for so long that they’ve become part of the landscape. Let’s focus on three of the newest alien insect invaders that are causing major problems across the country.

Brown Marmorated Stink Bug

Our first alien invader was identified near Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 1998, although officials suspect it arrived a few years earlier in shipping containers from China or Taiwan. As of January 2018, brown marmorated stink bugs (Halyomorpha halys) have been positively identified in 44 U.S. states, including Hawaii, plus four Canadian provinces. They’re most common on the East and West Coasts, for now. Brown marmorated stink bugs resemble native stink bugs: shield-shaped, about 5/8-inch long, and mottled brown in color. They have brown and white antennae, and dark-brown and white beading along the sides and back of their abdomens.

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