ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
The brown marmorated stink bug is a real pest. It can be found now in 41 states, the District of Columbia and also Canada. The bugs destroy crops and frustrate humans because they, too, like to shelter indoors when it's cold outside. Scientists at Virginia Tech say they have come up with a trap that can be made for just a couple of dollars.
From member station WVTF, Robbie Harris has the story.
ROBBIE HARRIS, BYLINE: No matter how good a housekeeper you are, it's not easy to keep stink bugs from ruining your image.
PAT HIPKINS: I had house guests and when they arrived at, like, 8-ish in the evening, I said, okay, as of 7:00, when I last swept the room, there were no stink bugs in there but I'm not guaranteeing that there aren't any now or that you won't find some during the night.
HARRIS: That's Pat Hipkins of Newport, Virginia. She took part in a two-year study comparing three different kinds of stinkbug traps - one store bought, with a lantern on a pyramid base, another homemade with instructions from YouTube using a plastic soda bottle with a light inside, and a third was a turkey pan with a table lamp. The three traps were rotated to control for differences due to location and citizen scientists like Hipkins counted the bugs in each trap.
HIPKINS: Well, we caught a lot of stink bugs and the one trap was way more effective than the others.
HARRIS: The best trap turned out to be the turkey pan with the desk lamp. Virginia Tech entomology PhD student John Aigner ran the study.
JOHN AIGNER: This is a 100 percent recycled aluminum pan. And then this desk lamp was purchased at Wal-Mart. We pour about a half-gallon of water in it and then shine the desk lamp towards the water, mix in a little Dawn dish detergent and then shake it up with your hand and leave it sit.
HARRIS: To the brown marmorated stink bug, the soft glow of a light bulb illuminating the water looks the way an ad for a winter vacation getaway to looks us; a sunny place to flock to and possibly find a mating partner. But like a vacation package that doesn't deliver as promised, the light is just a lure and the soapy water, a trick.
AIGNER: Once they touch that substrate, they can't get out. You know, they can orient themselves to some of these other traps but they can get on the outside of the trap and then they can leave.
HIPKINS: The turkey pan desk lamp combination proved 14 times more effective than the other models tested. There's no safety hazard for humans. Aigner says that's surprising to people who call the university to ask what they can do about stink bugs in the house.
AIGNER: The first thing that people ask is, what can I spray? Well, that's not necessarily what you want to do in your house. Do you want to live with a pesticide in your house? Even in agriculture that's not the first thing we reach for.
HARRIS: And it is in agriculture where stinkbugs are taking a huge bite. They were first seen in Pennsylvania in 2001, stowaways from Asia. By 2008 and '09, they were causing millions of dollars in crop damage.
Tracy Leskey is with the Tree Fruit Research Lab in West Virginia. She's studying how different wavelengths of light affect stinkbugs' behavior. She thinks one reason the winning trap turned out to be the most effective might be because it uses a broad-spectrum light bulb, not an LED.
TRACEY LESKY: Because LED lights are unidirectional and so it makes it a little bit more difficult for the bug to perceive that light, compared with the light bulb that is just basically illuminating, you know, the death trap of the water beneath.
HARRIS: But don't try to use the light traps in autumn when the stinkbugs get the cue to head indoors. The bugs are attracted to light in the spring only, when the lengthening days signal the time for mating. And entomologists know the brown marmorated stink bug prefers to do that with the lights on.
For NPR News, I'm Robbie Harris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.