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New crop pest discovered in the UK

18 June 2004

A new species of bug has been identified in the UK by Max Barclay, curator of beetles in the Entomology Department at the Natural History Museum.

Green vegetable bug

Two colonies of ‘stink bugs’ feeding on tomato plants in London, were identified after a visitor brought the bugs to an Insect Roadshow at the Museum's Darwin Centre. The third colony was discovered near King's Cross Station, London, at a nature reserve.

Green vegetable bugs (Nezara viridula) attack a broad range of crops, from soft fruits to potatoes and beans, and are a particular problem in the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Australia, North America and Africa.

The adult bugs have been regular stowaways to the UK in imported food stocks for over 25 years, but have never bred successfully in the UK because of the colder climate. Finding young bugs, known as nymphs, is a sign that the weather has been warm enough for the species to start breeding.

These insects are known as ‘stink bugs’ in the USA because, when threatened, they secrete toxic chemicals called hydroquinones, which have a distinctive foul odour. The 'stink bug' is similar to our native green shield bug (Palomena prasina) but is paler green, longer and narrower and grows up to 11 to 15 millimetres. The adults are uniformly green and have no brown markings and the young have distinctive white-spotted backs, with red edging.

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