Kansas, Missouri on watch for invasive pests

08/04/2014 7:37 AM

08/08/2014 2:44 PM

Run a Google Images search on the brown marmorated stink bug. Or Asian longhorned beetle.

On second thought, don’t do that. Just hope they don’t show up in force in our area anytime soon.

Those two are among a handful of pests Kansas and Missouri entomologists and officials are keeping an eye on because of the potential harm they could cause.

The Kansas Department of Agriculture, for example, has a few insects — most of them from other countries — on its priority list. It’s now focusing on periodic surveys and risk assessments for those that haven’t established themselves in the state yet.

“Ideally, we’d like to prevent infestation all together and never have to deal with it in the first place,” said plant protection and weed control manager Jeff Vogel of the Kansas Department of Agriculture.

On Vogel’s watch list:

• Asian longhorned beetle, which can damage a wide range of trees.
• Gypsy moth, which defoliates trees.
• Walnut twig beetle, which carries the thousand cankers disease that could threaten eastern black walnuts.

None of those have established themselves in Kansas so far, Vogel said, though occasional detections of gypsy moths have occurred.

Missouri is watching for those same insects, as well as the khapra beetle, which can damage stored grain.

Aside from some low numbers of gypsy moths that have been found — no reproducing populations yet — the other insects haven’t been detected in Missouri, said Mike Brown, Missouri’s state plant health director for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

In addition to all those insects, state experts are watching out for a number of other pests.

Both states also have had some isolated incidents of red imported fire ants, but those have been or are being eradicated.

Then there’s that brown marmorated stink bug. Both the immature and adult stink bugs chew on a wide variety of fruit, leaving them unsaleable, said Raymond Cloyd, an entomology professor at Kansas State University.

“It just makes the fruit unmarketable, which is an economic loss for the producer,” Cloyd said.

Ben Puttler, an assistant professor emeritus of entomology at the University of Missouri, called the stink bug “the scourge of the east,” but neither he nor Brown were aware of any permanent establishments in Missouri.

There’s also the spotted wing drosophila, which Cloyd said could cause substantial problems for fruit-tree and berry growers. The fruit fly was detected in Kansas last year.

“It’s in Kansas for good,” Cloyd said.

How extensively the pest is in Kansas isn’t known, Cloyd said, and he noted most growers probably aren’t aware of it.

“I don’t think anyone’s suffered any damage, as far as we can tell, but people probably don’t know what this fruit fly is,” he said.

Moneen Jones, a research entomologist for MU at the Fisher Delta Research Center in Missouri’s Bootheel, also has her eye on the sugarcane aphid, which can kill young plants if the infestation is bad enough, and which has been recently attacking sorghum. The pest leaves a sticky substance on plants that can lead to the growth of a sooty mold fungus that harms the plant, she said.

The pest hasn’t reached Missouri yet, but it’s moving north quickly from the southern United States, so she is monitoring for it.

She’s also on the lookout for the kudzu bug, which can cause huge crop yield losses in soybeans if left untreated. Jones’ team will be scouting for it next year, but she thinks the bug could have already arrived.

“The sugarcane aphid can decimate the crops, and so can the kudzu bug,” she said.

Though people like Jones and Vogel have an eye on the potential danger of different pests, public awareness is key — if someone reports a suspicious bug, that may be the first alert.

“The earlier we know about it, the better potentially the response could be,” Vogel said.

That includes being neither overly concerned nor complacent, but also avoiding things that could cause pests to spread, such as moving firewood a great distance or shipping fresh fruit out of the state, Brown said.

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