Max Suckling updates the NZIAHS on Trimble Award’s role in war on stink bugs

Max Suckling,  was learning to be a bug hunter for a new invasive threat, when AgScience reported in June last year on the NZIAHS grant to him of a Trimble Award to visit colleagues in Italy.

The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, which had been discovered in this country, was rampaging through horticultural crops in Italy, including apples, pears, kiwifruit, grape vines and corn.

Max is a professor at the University of Auckland and Science Group Leader (Biosecurity) at the NZ Institute for Plant and Food Research (Christchurch).

His projects would gain him practical experience with traps and aggregation pheromone lures for surveillance and suppression, as well as further evaluation of the potential for the sterile insect technique to be used in the event of an incursion into New Zealand.

The research team at Fondazione Edmund Mach near Trento, in northern Italy, was working on an exciting new lead against these types of bugs.

Max has contacted the NZIAHS to bring us up to date with his work, to illustrate what progress the Trimble Award has enabled.

His work includes three new publications.

The remaining funds from the Trimble Award carried forward enabled a second 2.5 month visit this year in 2019 to Northern Italy.

New initiatives include two new BMSB traps, one to live catch (or kill) adults and one to kill nymphs and adults – eerily called The Nazgȗl (after the Ring Wraiths).

Max has made two extension videos from publications to explain it all

The Live Trap paper doi:



The Nazgȗl paper



Max’s work has featured in two radio podcasts

And in the written media

It has featured, too, in written media in Italian

And it has featured in a video on the NZ-Italian collaboration with Italian subtitles

Max provided this summary and timeline on Brown Marmorated Stink Bug Actions 2018-2019

    1. A Trimble Award granted in 2018 provided the opportunity to visit Fondazione Edmund Mach (“FEM”) and establish several cooperative projects on Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB), Halyomorpha halys. The grant proved to be very generous and NZ$6,000 remained unspent, enabling a second visit. Several youtube videos were produced on BMSB, including an interview with the recipient with Italian subtitles added. In NZ, presentations were made on the work in Italy to the BMSB Council and to a Kiwifruit Industry Forum in 2019.
    2. Harvest 2018 proved a disaster for many Italian growers due to BMSB, and losses in nearby Emilia Romagna alone exceeded 150,000,000 Euros. By June 2019, populations at FEM were recorded as 10-fold higher than last year. The bugs are very common now and have spread up new valleys this year. Damage is building and has reached NZD 1 billion in 2019.
    3. An MBIE bid was resubmitted in February 2019 with SCION, including funding for collaboration with Italian biotremologists over BMSB traps based on vibrational communication, but this was not awarded. Prototype vibrotraps have already been developed and work has continued at FEM with their commercial partner CBC.
    4. In May 2019, an AGMARDT conference grant enabled long-time colleague Prof Claudio Ioriatti of FEM to visit New Zealand to speak to our growers and the major horticultural industries, and the 10-day visit produced six seminars and six media interviews, plus a PFR podcast and a workshop on BMSB response strategy.
    5. As a consequence of the 2018 Trimble Award, three Italian PhD students visited PFR, Lincoln in summer 2018-19 to work on biotremology (substrate-borne vibrational communication) of the tomato potato psyllid, mating disruption of the citrophilous mealybug using sex pheromone, and development of lures without by-catch for Spotted Wing Drosophila. The latter PhD candidate is a prestigious Marie Slowdoska Curie Fellow. One publication, two manuscripts and a book chapter have been produced to date from these visits, and two further manuscripts are in preparation. One PhD candidate has returned to work on biotremology of TPP in November 2019.
    6. A return visit to Italy was possible in 2019 with the remaining Trimble Award funds, due to additional funding which fortunately aligned well. This included air travel funds from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, as the recipient was appointed to the Science Advisory Body of the OECD Cooperative Research Program in 2019, and attended a workshop on “Rapid Evolution in Invasive Species” in the UK, 8-13 June 2019. It also included living support from FEM (the recipient was appointed as an “Affiliate” of FEM, providing rent-free accommodation for 10 weeks, and a subsidised main meal, 15 June – 31 August 2019). The repeat visit also had the support of the Plant and Food Research and the University of Auckland.
    7. A manuscript has been published with open access on the sterile insect technique for BMSB and a PhD candidate (Gerardo Roselli) has enrolled at FEM to work on the sterile insect technique full time. Last autumn he collected 10,000 stink bugs for this project, from the massive aggregations that overwinter in Italy. Next year he will visit Lincoln for six months (from November 2020).
    8. A new BMSB pheromone live trap was invented, catching 7-15-fold more bugs than the standard trap tested by NZ MPI. A manuscript has been published in the open access journal “Insects”, along with a video abstract for outreach. New Zealand Apples and Pears has contracted further work on the trap in Italy, which confirmed the results.
    9. A new project was initiated based on a lure-and-kill concept for BMSB, published in open access this week, along with a video abstract for outreach. Called “The Nazgûl”, based on its sinister appearance, the concept uses the high loading aggregation pheromone combined with long-lasting insecticide netting to kill all stages of BMSB, including nymphs.
    10. A day was spent hosting NZ journalist Mr Richard Rennie, who wrote three articles published in the NZ Farmer Weekly, online. The topics included BMSB, the long-term cooperation between Profs Ioriatti and Suckling, and the new science of Biotremology (substrate-borne communication).
    11. Dr Lloyd Stringer from Plant and Food Lincoln visited FEM to join the field research team for a week after a meeting in Vienna with the International Atomic Energy Agency on the sterile insect technique.
    12. A day was spent hosting Nicola Robertson, Biosecurity Manager for NZ Apples and Pears and a film crew for a New Zealand audience, to highlight the rising impacts of BMSB on Italy’s premier apple region near FEM.  She awarded a grant to hire a student to continue the trapping experiments into November, to confirm and extend results. A total of 2400 bugs were caught in the NZ industry-funded work, shared with NZ Winegrowers and NZ Avocados.
    13. Kiran Horrocks, a NZ PhD candidate awarded an “A” for his MSc at the University of Auckland has enrolled with a full scholarship to work on the related concept of irradiating the parasitoid Samurai Wasps (sterile “Kamikaze Wasps”), which conceptually fits together with the BMSB sterile insect technqiue to produce an eradication system without long-term adverse impacts on NZ native species, a recognised risk of the current Samurai wasp approval. If successful, models suggest the combination could reduce BMSB populations by up to 200-fold per generation. This project has Zespri support for the NZ student to visit USDA in 2020.  He has submitted a manuscript on the concept.
    14. In November, Biotremology PhD candidate Sabina Avosani from FEM came back to PFR to continue working on tomato potato psyllid. She has submitted a manuscript on the earlier work and given a conference presentation, and written a book chapter on tomato potato psyllid. She co-authored a second manuscript.
    15. In December, two brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) experts from FEM toured NZ to share the success story of a BMSB tracking mobile app and experience in trying to gain sustainable control of the invasive pest, with New Zealand biosecurity experts and stakeholders working on the threat.  Professor Gianfranco Anfora and Dr Anna Eriksson from Fondazione Edmund Mach in Italy began their 10-day New Zealand tour on 4 December 2019. The success of “BugMap” in Italy has led to the adoption of the app by chocolatier Ferrero Rocher in Georgia, a country where these bugs are now affecting hazel nut supply. The visit was funded by their regional government.


Related Science Outputs 2019

Ricciardi R, A Lucchi, G Benelli, DM Suckling. Multiple mating in the citrophilous mealybug, Pseudococcus calceolariae: implications for mating disruption. Insects 10: 285.

Suckling DM, Cristofaro M, Roselli G, Levy MC, Cemmi A, et al. (2019) Competitive mating of irradiated brown marmorated stink bugs, Halyomorpha halys, for the Sterile Insect Technique Insects 10. doi:10.3390/insects10110411.

Suckling DM, Levy MC, Roselli G, Mazzoni V, Ioriatti C, et al. (2019) Live traps for adult brown marmorated stink bugs. Insects 10: 376. doi:

Suckling DM, Mazzoni V, Roselli G, Levy MC, Ioriatti C, et al. (2019) Trapping brown marmorated stink bugs: Lure and kill using “The Nazgȗl” insecticide nets. Insects 10(12), 433;


Related Conference presentations post Trimble Award

Avosani S, Sullivan T.ES, Mazzoni V, Suckling DM 2019. Vibrational communication and mating behaviour of the Tomato Potato Psyllid (TPP), Bactericera (Paratrioza) cockerelli Entomological Society of NZ, Hanmer Springs February 7-9 2019.  Oral presentation.

Ðurović G, Anfora G, Alawamleh A, De Cristofaro A, Manning LM, Park KC, Suckling DM 2019. Olfactory investigations on Drosophila suzukii and sister species. Entomological Society of NZ, Hanmer Springs February 7-9 2019. Oral presentation.

Suckling DM 2018. Behavioural disruption for suppression presents different challenges in different insect orders. 34th Annual Meeting of the International Society of Chemical Ecology, 12-18 August 2018, Budapest, Hungary. Oral presentation.

Suckling DM 2019. Invasive Pests – a major challenge in the era of accelerating globalization. PheroFIP 19, Joint meeting of the IOBC-WPRS Working Groups “Pheromones and other semiochemicals in IP” and “Integrated Protection of Fruit Crops”, Lisbon, Portugal, 20-25 January 2019. Keynote address.

Suckling DM 2019. Invasive species – a target for sustainability through chemical ecology. Deutschen Entomologentatgung 2019, Universität Halle, Germany. 11-14 March. Keynote address (funded).

Suckling DM. 2019Invasive arthropods – global selection to be the world’s biggest pest ? OECD Workshop on Rapid Evolution In Invasive Species. Wallingford UK, June 12-14. (funded).

Sullivan TES, Park KC, Butler RC, Taylor PW, Suckling DM 2018. Acoustic communication and mating behaviour in the tomato potato psyllid, Bactericera cockerelli (Sulc). 2nd International symposium on Biotremology, 4-6 September 2018, Riva del Garda, Italy. Oral presentation.

Torriani M, Zeni V, Maistrello L, Canale A, Suckling DM, Mazzoni V 2018. Continuous or not continuous: Insights into some temporal features of the female signals of Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (Halyomorpha halys) to improve attraction towards males. 2nd International symposium on Biotremology, 4-6 September 2018, Riva del Garda, Italy. Poster.

Author: Bob Edlin

Editor of AgScience Magazine and Editor of the AgScience Blog

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