When a staff member walked into Warren Birchmore’s office with a suspicious looking bug on her jumper, Warren immediately thought of the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB).

“I was aware of the BMSB problem due to the recent publications and alerts, so I had heightened awareness,” said Warren, who is Viticulture Systems Manager at Accolade Wines, based at Reynella.

“When I pointed out the bug on her jumper, she instinctively flicked it off and it flew away. But I knew I needed to catch it for identification. I managed to catch it and contain it in a jar, which was hard to do as the bug was very active.”

The next step was finding information to assist with identifying the bug. Warren contacted Vinehealth Australia and spoke to Technical Manager Suzanne McLoughlin. Suzanne provided a quick reference guide, contained within the ‘Guide to the identification of brown marmorated stink bug, Halyomorpha halys, and other similar bugs’ by the Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources. And together they identified some of the distinguishing features of the bugs that Warren could use to initially discount the bugs it was likely not to be.

“Suzanne also suggested putting the bug in the fridge to slow it down, which was a great tip. Once the bug was sluggish, I put a ruler under the jar for scale, and took photos using the flash function,” Warren said.

“This was also a good move, because the colours and markings on the bug showed up vastly different in the photos when I used flash. I thought the bug was a brown grey colour, but it was actually dark brown to black, with yellowish spots. That was a real eye opener – the colour differences between the naked eye and the camera.”

The markings on the bug and the number of antenna sections were also helpful in identification. “The bug we caught had four antenna sections, while the BMSB has five. I was fairly certain it wasn’t a Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, but I wanted to be sure.”

Suzanne put Warren in touch with SARDI entomologist Greg Baker and within a matter of 20 minutes, Greg had confirmed that the stinkbug in question was a Gum tree shield bug, native to Australia.

“It was a relief that our bug wasn’t the BMSB, which is exotic to Australia and we really don’t want it here,” Warren said. “And it was a good process to go through for me, because now I’m familiar with the steps for identifying or reporting a suspicious pest. I’m now certain that Vinehealth Australia and SARDI would swing into action to confirm and contain anything we might find in the future.”

Warren says vineyard staff are key to monitoring for unusual pests, as they are looking at vines every day.

“Our vineyard managers are well versed in knowing what pests and diseases could appear and are always on the lookout for something unusual. If they do spot something, they immediately investigate it, either internally within Accolade or outside with organisations such as Vinehealth or SARDI,” he said. “There are lots of resources and industry contacts out there for growers to use.

“And all of us in the industry need to be vigilant. It’s much better to take the time to get unusual insects or diseases identified, than to ignore the problem, and suddenly it’s everywhere.”

Suzanne said Vinehealth Australia was constantly looking at ways to make the pest and disease identification process easier for growers. “With new pest pressures on our doorstep, we’re focused on preventing the entry of exotic pests, as well as ensuring growers know what to do if they find something unusual. We’re here to help,” Suzanne said.

Warren and Suzanne share their tips for identifying unusual stinkbugs below. If you think you’ve found an exotic pest or disease, contact Vinehealth Australia on (08) 8273 0550 for guidance. You can also call the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881.

Meanwhile, work is occurring nationally to protect Australian agricultural industries, including the wine industry, from the threat of brown marmorated stink bugs.

Between September and April each year, there is a heightened risk of BMSB on cargo imported from the US and several European countries. In response, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) has strengthened biosecurity measures both offshore and at the border to ensure BMSB remains a pest exotic to Australia.

For the 2018–19 season, high-risk cargo (such as motor vehicles and heavy machinery) and cargo from high-risk countries (including France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Romania, Russia and the USA) will be treated for BMSB through an approved treatment provider.

DAWR has advised that managing the BMSB risk is likely to cause delays in clearance times due to identification of treated and untreated containerised cargo and the capacity of storage facilities at approved arrangement sites and onshore treatment provider premises.

The import and shipping industries can help avoid onshore delays by arranging for their goods to undergo mandatory treatment by an approved offshore provider prior to arrival into Australia. Industry is also encouraged to lodge relevant import documentation as early as possible.

For more information on the enhanced requirements, visit the department’s BMSB page: https://www.agriculture.gov.au/import/before/pests/brown-marmorated-stink-bugs

Note: Vinehealth Australia has included the Quick Reference Guide to BMSB and similar bugs on its website, which you can find here: https://vinehealth.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Quick-Reference-Guide-Brown-Marmorated-Stink-Bug-and-Native-Stink-Bugs.pdf

If you find an usual bug:

  • Catch it and contain it.
  • If the bug is active, chill it in the fridge or freezer for about 10 minutes to slow it down.
  • Take a photo with flash with a ruler for scale. Most cameras and phones have a macro mode for close up photos.
  • If you think it may be a BMSB, review the BMSB Quick Image Reference Guide and look for identifying features.
  • If in doubt, send your photo to Vinehealth Australia or your local entomologist.