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Press release

New crop pest discovered in UK

18 June 2004

A new shield bug species has been discovered in the UK by Max Barclay, curator of beetles at the Natural History Museum. Three colonies of the shield-shaped green vegetable bug, a crop pest normally found in much warmer climates, have been identified living and breeding in London.

Green vegetable bugs (Nezara viridula) attack a broad range of crops, from soft fruits to potatoes and beans, damaging fruit, transmitting disease and leaving plants open to attack by other pests. They are a particular problem in the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Australia, North America and Africa, and could be a significant pest if, as the evidence suggests, they become resident in the British Isles.

Adult green vegetable bugs have been regular stowaways in imported stocks for over 25 years, but have never bred successfully in the UK due to the colder climate. Finding young bugs, known as nymphs, in three different locations is a clear sign that the weather has been warm enough for the species to start breeding.

The green vegetable bug is similar to our native green shield bug (Palomena prasina) but is a paler green colour, narrower and longer, growing up to between 11 and 15 millimetres. Unlike the native green shield bug, adult green vegetable bugs have no brown markings and are uniformly green. Young green vegetable bugs have distinctive white-spotted backs, with red edging.

Two colonies feeding on tomato plants in London, were identified after a visitor to the Museum’s Darwin Centre brought two young bugs for scientific inspection at an Insect Roadshow*. The third colony was discovered near King’s Cross Station, London, at a nature reserve.

These insects are known as ‘stink bugs’ in the US, because when threatened, they secrete toxic chemicals called hydroquinones, which have a distinctive foul odour.

The Natural History Museum houses one of the world’s largest and richest collections of insects. The collection includes 28 million specimens in total and was collected over 300 years. The Museum holds the collections of Darwin, Wallace and Captain Cook’s Endeavour voyages.

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Editor’s notes

Max Barclay will be running a second Insect Roadshow and inviting farmers, gardeners and anyone interested in bugs to bring a long their unidentified bugs.
Insect Roadshow on Sunday 20 June, 12.00 and 14.30
Calling for anyone who has ever found a strange, six-legged beast in the garden or on holiday. Museum entomologists will bravely attempt to identify all insects and photographs of insects brought in, whether local or exotic.

Venue: Darwin Centre at the Natural History Museum,
Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD
Dates: Sunday 20 June
Visitor enquiries: 020 7942 5000
Entry: free to all
Nearest tube: South Kensington

If you would like to interview Max Barclay, request images or further information, please contact:

Chloe Kembery or Liz Woznicki, the Natural History Museum Science Communication PR Office
Tel: 020 7942 5880/5278
(not for publication)

Issued: 18 June 2004