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Stink bugs won’t win the shutdown

THURMONT, MD - Sept. 23: Bob Black owns Catoctin Fruit Orchard where about 20 percent of his crop has suffered damage from stink bugs. A stink bug crawls around an apple Thursday September 23, in Thurmont, MD. (Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post) A stink bug crawls around an apple. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

It looked like one of the beneficiaries of the government shutdown was going to be the nation’s most wanted bug. We’re talking about a nasty insect here. Call it Notorious B.U.G.

Some folks had bemoaned the  fate of the Agriculture Department’s “Great Stink Bug Count,” a citizen-led census of the pesky brown bugs which was thrown into question due to the shuttered government. The count, which began last month and ends on Tuesday, is aimed at fighting the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, which USDA earlier this year named its “top invasive insect of interest”.

That’s the entomological equivalent of the FBI’s Most Wanted list. Those dastardly little red-eyed scourges have gnawed through crops all over the mid-Atlantic — and they have few natural predators.

The project called on folks participating to conduct a daily count of the pests they spotted on the exteriors of their homes and to submit the information online. “By the end of October, scientists expect to have the raw numbers they will need to start compiling data,” our colleague Darryl Fears reported last month. “They plan to analyze the colors of homes, their sizes, location, elevation and surrounding vegetation to see what attracts the bugs.”

But then came the shutdown. Web sites went down. Researchers were furloughed. The fear was that the bugs were going unchecked.

But never fear. We’re told that the participants in the project — more than 300 people, from middle-school students to music professors — were already keeping records before the shutdown, and that the USDA’s university partners have stepped in to collect them after the government had to go dark.

Eventually, there will be a pile of data for the government researchers to return to.

The government took pains to keep national security functions going. After all, we couldn’t let the war on terror go unfunded. But the war on stinkbugs? Good thing we’re not losing our edge there, either.

Emily Heil is the co-author of the Reliable Source and previously helped pen the In the Loop column with Al Kamen.

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