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Jan. 27, 2016

Julianna Wilson: Stink Bugs Go Viral

Jan. 21, 2016

Julianna Wilson is the tree fruit integrator/outreach specialist in the Department of Entomology at MSU. She works with MSU fruit specialists and MSU Extension educators to conduct applied research and to develop programs and materials in support of economically and environmentally sustainable apple, cherry and other tree fruit production systems in Michigan.

One Friday last September I decided to write an article for MSU Extension News to ask people to report sightings of the brown marmorated stink bug. Native to Asia, BMSB was accidently introduced into the United States sometime before the late 1990s. It was first detected in Pennsylvania in 1996, and by 2006 it had become one of the most important late season orchard pests in Mid-Atlantic States.

What happened during those 10 years before it became an economically important pest? BMSB seek shelter in manmade structures in late summer, early fall – they became a nuisance pest before they became an agricultural pest.

After the first confirmed Michigan detection in 2010, sporadic reports came in to MSU from various parts of the state. By the end of 2013, the MSU Fruit Team decided it was time to set up a monitoring network of traps with weekly reports through MSUE News – but few BMSB were caught.

Partly out of frustration I decided to try to get people to tell us where they were finding them – and to ask them to use the already established Midwest Invasive Species Information Network to do so. I posted the article, and then I posted a link on my personal Facebook page, later learning that others had posted links on Facebook as well.

That Monday morning I got an email from Dennis Bond, the web services manager for the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, congratulating me on my article. I was surprised and excited to hear that almost immediately after the article was posted it started to receive high amounts of traffic.

By that Tuesday morning, Dennis reported that the article had “gone viral”, with 100 views per minute and an average read time of 4 minutes and 23 seconds. As of January, the article has been viewed more than 100,000 times with the majority of views connecting via social media, and 89.9 percent of the traffic via mobile devices.

Before the article was posted, MISIN had six total records of BMSB. Four months later, there are now more than 2,700 records. I have already used this data to determine where other hotspots are forming and to get the word out to growers in those areas to be scouting for this pest next season. Social media, combined with a mobile-friendly MSUE News website, an existing database to collect reports, and just plain good timing, were the keys to this success.

Photo by Leslie Mertz, Good Fruit Grower