Australia is facing an increasing threat from one of the world’s most invasive pests.
Six post-border detections have occurred in the current BMSB season (September to April) across Queensland, Victoria, and Western Australia on a variety of imported cargo, from terracotta pots to tractors and machinery. Three of the detections have been in Queensland, in Lytton, New Chum, and Fisherman’s Island, two were in Melbourne, and one was in Fremantle.
This compares with only three post-border detections of BMSB in Australia in 2017/18. Two were in Western Sydney and one in Perth. All were associated with goods that had been imported from Italy.
The Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources is working closely with each of the affected state governments. Each detection has seen swift and effective response measures put in place.
The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources has issued a release highlighting recent facts and current biosecurity strategy related to the Brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB).
How bad is the BMSB?
Expert Advisor to APAL’s Apple and Pear Biosecurity Steering Committee Kevin Clayton-Green has called the BMSB “one of the most invasive plant pests in the world.”
“It’s had no trouble spreading through Europe, and after being found in the eastern US in 1998 it’s taken less than twenty years for it to be found across the country,” he said.
“When feeding on fruit it leaves damaging marks, which leaves the fruit unsalable. It can also completely defoliate young trees when they are most vulnerable.”
Outbreaks of BMSB have caused significant losses to apple and pear growers in the eastern US since its arrival, and it is now regarded as a greater pest than codling moth.
Kevin noted that country areas with plenty of foliage are perfect breeding grounds for a pest that can quickly spread out of control. While not a risk to human health, BMSB is considered a high priority pest, and one that needs to be kept out of Australia.
“It has a tendency to hibernate, which makes it especially eager to infest packhouses and other storage buildings as well as homes and any other structure in which it can shelter such as boats on trailors, sheds etc. As such the impact of this pest will be felt not just by producers but the population as whole.
“It is a concern not only to the apple and pear industry, but to the broader community as it can destroy many types of plants, from orchards to ornamental trees.”
Between 1 September 2018 and 30 April 2019, additional import measures have been put in place for imported sea cargo. These measures apply to specific goods arriving from certain countries where BMSB presence is well documented.
What to look out for
BMSB is known to feed on more than 300 hosts, including agricultural crops such as apples, pears, nuts, grains, berries, cotton, citrus, soybean, nursery stock, and some ornamental and weed plant species. While feeding, the bug’s saliva causes significant damage to plant tissues.
Adults range in length between 12-17 mm. They are mottled brown in colour and have a shield-shaped appearance. BMSB looks similar to native Australian stink bugs, but are larger and have distinguishing white bands on its antennae. It has a foul-smelling odour when crushed or disturbed.
There are five nymph stages that range in size from less than 3 mm to 12 mm long. The nymphs are orange and black when they first hatch but quickly develop a similar colouration to the adults. The juvenile, or nymphal stages, cause the most damage to plants and crops. Eggs are cream to yellow-orange and approximately 1.6 mm long and laid in clusters on the underside of leaves.
BMSB opportunistically uses cargo containers and freight vehicles to hitchhike across continents and oceans. The bug’s ability to hitchhike, fly, and to feed on a wide range of plant hosts, enables it to spread rapidly when it is introduced to new areas, and its ability to lie dormant can allow it to travel around the world hidden in cargo.
BMSB can be confused with a number of other brown coloured stinkbugs that are present in Australia. There is a comprehensive identification guide available through the Outbreak website (outbreak.gov.au).
Biosecurity and your role
Everyone has a role in keeping pests and diseases out of Australia. The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources advised that anyone who works around or receives imported goods should always keep an eye out for pests.
The brown marmorated stink bug will stow away inside shipping containers, and they can be found within the goods in the container, including boxes and packaging. They also seek shelter in break bulk cargo including vehicles and machinery. Cargo does not have to have been recently imported for it to potentially contain the threat of BMSB; the bug has the ability to survive for long periods in cargo by remaining dormant.
If you notice any bugs or other pests, don’t remove the contents of the container, shut the doors and don’t allow the container to be moved – especially to an area outside if it’s in a warehouse.
The most effective way to detect BMSB is by visually inspecting host plants. They are large bugs that emit a foul odour when disturbed.
Collect any dead or live specimens so our entomologists can confirm the species. Any live bugs should be held in a container that prevents them from escaping.
If you think you have spotted what could be a brown marmorated stink bug, phone the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881. This will put you in touch with your local department of primary industries or agriculture, from anywhere in Australia.
To learn more, watch the video at agriculture.gov.au/cargopests.