As crop growers and homeowners brace for another year of infestations by the brown marmorated stink bug, Penn State researchers have released a Web-based tool that they hope will help enhance their understanding of this invasive insect pest. Developed in collaboration with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, the mapping tool is embedded in a website found at http://stinkbug-info.org/ online.

"The goal of this tool is to give us another source of information about the population dynamics of the brown marmorated stink bug," said John Tooker, assistant professor of entomology in the College of Agricultural Sciences. Tooker developed the tool with Douglas Miller, associate professor of geography and director of the Center for Environmental Informatics in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

Miller said the mapping tool will enable fruit and vegetable growers, field-crop growers, nursery operators and homeowners to report the location and size of infestations and the estimated dollar value of damages, if any, caused by the pest.

The website, which researchers will update and enhance over time, also acts as a portal for information about the stink bug, including photos, a description and management tips for homeowners. "We're looking at homes as point sources for potential agricultural infestations," said Miller.

Tooker said in the short term, data collected could provide an early warning for growers about where stink-bug populations are occurring so they can take appropriate action to protect their crops. "In the long term, we hope to learn more about how the pest spreads and moves between crops, with an eye toward developing better management strategies."

To report an infestation, visitors to the site first register to create a user name and password. They then will be able to enter information about their infestation, including the county and municipality, date and the number of stink bugs observed per plant or in and around a home. Growers also can report infestations in the two previous seasons to document economic loss.

"To get maximum benefit from the tool, we need as many people as possible to report their infestations," said Tooker.

A native of Asia, the brown marmorated stink bug first was found in the United States in Lehigh County in 1998, and it since has become a perennial nuisance to homeowners as the bugs seek winter shelter -- sometimes by the thousands -- in and around houses and other structures. But the insect has become a serious agricultural pest as well, last year causing extensive damage in some Pennsylvania apple and peach orchards.