The pheromones of the brown marmorated stink bug, scientifically known as Halyomorpha halys, have been decoded by scientists according to a new report. Research on the insects has found that they use their distinctive pheromones in order to attract other members of the species to various locations in order to point out areas with food and other useful resources.

 stink bug

The research, which was led by Ashot Khrimian, of the Invasive Insect Biocontrol and Behavior Laboratory in Beltsville, shows that adult males of the stink bug species use two different chemicals in order to lure other stink bugs to various locations. The scientists recreated the chemicals in a laboratory and used them as lures in order to prove their efficacy.

Research decodes insect language

Many insects communicate by the use of chemicals called pheromones. The Stink Bug is native to Asia, but became an invasive species in the United States in the last fifteen years. The first example of the insect found in the mainland United States was found in Pennsylvania in 2001. The insect is now known to inhabit more than 40 states, and causes millions in damage to the apple industry every year.

The researchers carried out their research by collecting airborne samples of the insect pheromone. Laboratory testing and experimentation led to the development of a method of synthesizing the chemicals which are apparently three times more effective when combined.

The research was, in part, funded by the United States Department of Agriculture, appeared in a paper in the Journal of Natural Products. It involved researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the Institute of Cellular and Organismic Biology in Taipei, Taiwan as well as from the Invasive Insect Biocontrol and Behavior Laboratory. Alongside Ashot Khrimian the other authors include ARS researchers Shyam Shirali, Don Weber, Filadelfo Guzman, Tracy C. Leskey, Jeffrey Aldrich Aijun Zhang, and Karl E. Vermillion, .

Stink bugs cause problems for farmers

The research may have applications right away for some farmers. Stink bugs are a known pest in agriculture and the insects have been known to eat everything from fruit and vegetables to grains. The stink bug is specifically regarded as a pest in the apple industry, and that may be one of the first places that the artificial pheromones discovered by the scientists could be used.

Right now most of the effort to control insect subversion of the food industry revolves around the use of pesticides. Those chemicals have, for many years, met resistance because of their possible contribution to human diseases. The use of insect pheromones to draw animals away from the crop, rather than killing them when they get to it, may be a more efficient way to control pests, and it’s likely better for the environment and the human food supply.

There is no information on when the synthetic pheromone might be available to be used commercially, but it may be years as the chemicals go through testing to ensure that they are safe to use in agriculture.