Monday, September 22, 2014

BREAKING NEWS: Invaders from the Orient!

This past Saturday, I identified an invasive species -- more specifically, the Halyamorpha halys -- for the no-good foreign pest that it is. Granted, this is probably common knowledge to anyone living in the eastern United States...

It was "breaking news" to me, though, and that's what this blog is all about! Allow me, then, to describe the work of my budding naturalist's instinct, which led me to this discovery.


Initial contact was made on Saturday, September 20, as I was making a return trip from AutoZone. I had gone there to test my car's battery -- and in order to listen to the AutoZone associate as he tested it, I lowered my driver-side window and kept it open. It remained open from the moment the test began, to the moment I started my car with a brand-new battery; I suspect this is how the invader found its way inside.

Shortly after exiting the lot, I felt a light itch on the tip of my nose. I've had allergies since birth, so I didn't think much of it. I rubbed my nose without a second thought; the itch stopped. 

Then I felt something on my chest -- moving up my chest -- and in that moment, the cause of the nose itch became much clearer. It also became a little uncomfortable. "Unsettling" wouldn't be too strong a word. A stink bug was crawling up my shirt with surprising speed, determined to reclaim its former perch on my face. This is no exaggeration; it really did seem interested in my nose. Twice I brushed it from my shirt, only for it to return with new speed and strength -- aiming for the same spot, my nose. Once it reached my cheek.

I'm hardly squeamish around insects, but I'm not keen to have animals of any kind on my face. Furthermore, if you recall, I was driving at the time. The stink bug was proving to be a distraction and a hazard to everyone on the road.

Eventually, I was able to scoop the stink bug onto my finger, from which it jumped onto the steering wheel. There it seemed content to gaze over a new dominion, carapace lifted high into the air. A few minutes passed in this way, until I was safely able to dethrone Emperor Stink by flicking it out my window.  End scene.

This episode, humorous as it was, put stink bugs on my mind. 
When a creature repeatedly flings itself at your face, you're apt to remember it, no?

Then my naturalist's instinct came into play. In contemplating the stink bug, I realized that I had never seen one as a child. I had long since taken their presence for granted -- but when I reflected on my early butterfly-chasing years, I could only conclude that I had never seen a stink bug during any of my backyard adventures. "Have I had contact with an invasive species?" I thought. It seemed likely, and a quick Internet search proved my hunch correct.

The brown marmorated stink bug is a species native to China, Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, though even in those places it is regarded as a pest. Apparently, it first became notable in the United States in 2010, when invading populations swelled into states along the Eastern coast -- and eventually into Kentucky. Here it has several lookalikes in the "shield bug" family, each of which I've made a point to identify by looks. 

The brown stink bug, in particular, looks nearly identical to the invader...

Brown Marmorated Stink Bug
Credit to Purdue University

Brown Stink Bug
Credit to Kim Hosen

The trick to distinguishing the invasive pest from the native pest is in the word "marmorated," which means "marbled" or "freckled." Though the brown stink bug does have a freckled white-and-brown coloration, the brown marmorated stink bug has a much bolder pattern that continues up its antennae, and looks very much like marble. If a distinct white band can be seen on each of the bug's antennae, the stink bug in question is of the invasive, brown marmorated variety.

As an unofficial naturalist at best, I have no idea how this distinction can serve the average person. Squish one and save the other? Squish them both, but with varying degrees of animosity? I can't say.

Of course, if the insect in question is desperately clawing up to your face, identification may be a difficult thing -- perhaps not worth your time. That, I suppose, will be the closing sentiment of this post: In the name of ecological soundness, to what extent are we willing to tolerate discomfort, pause our daily human routines, or take additional pains? Is a single insect worth the effort? Again, I can't say. Further field work is required.

Today's story is another by Roald Dahl, titled "Royal Jelly." I suppose it serves as an outsider's perspective of entomologists and bug enthusiasts -- in addition to being simply interesting. 
If you don't mind odd formatting, here is a .PDF for instant reading: "Royal Jelly," by Roald Dahl
It may be slightly abridged. I'm not sure. If you'd rather read it as I did, search for The Best of Roald Dahl or The Complete Short Stories of Roald Dahl. Well worth the expense.

1 comment:

  1. Very well written and entertaining story, Mr. Otero! These questions represent a great intellectual exercise! If humans are natural, then why aren't "human side effects" such as transporting potentially invasive species also natural? Clearly there are some ecological impacts. So what's the solution? More naturalists! (You knew I'd say that, I'm sure.)

    Also thanks for the Roald Dahl pdf, I've sent both to my Kindle and will read them as soon as I have time!