Are Those Bugs at Burning Man The Result of Desert Agriculture or a Plague Sent From God?

Source: Wikipedia

Do you recall those green bugs that invaded the Burning Man grounds and became the buzz of the Internet? You might have heard they were green stink bugs (GSB), but it turns out this might not true. In an article that appeared in Gizmodo, Alex Wild identifies the bugs as GSB from photographs and explanations by organizers preparing the festival. Cornell University entomologist, Professor Peter Jentsch, tells us this might not be the case.

“As another article states, seed bugs are common to the Sonoran Desert, look like shield bugs/stink bugs and are likely the culprit. Some seed bugs – Conenose beetle; Common to Arizona and Nevada – have been known to ‘sting’ humans, which could also be confused with the presence of GSB,” Professor Jentsch writes in an e-mail to me.

“To be honest, there are only hints of identification of green stink bug (GSB) that, by the way, do not bite humans,” Professor Jentsch wrote.

Stink bugs do not have the physical capacity to sting or bite humans. Predatory SB species do pierce other insects, usually larva, that they then feed on.

Interestingly, the components of the smell associated with stink bugs have certain uses for humans.

“The aldehydes that contribute to the ‘smell’ are used as ingredients in various products for flavour and perfumes,” Jentsch, the Hudson Valley Research Lab’s Laboratory Superintendent, stated. “They do produce compounds that some folks with sensitive skin experience burning sensation and lesions on their skin, often confused with a bite along with the presence of the stink bug.”

Dr. Peter Jentsch teaching a course outdoors. Image: Cornell

“If indeed these are GSB, then this may be a reasonable explanation,” he adds. To Be certain, Professor Jentsch is unfamiliar with stink bugs inhabiting desert climates, but he does believe there is a possibility they do today.

“Given the rise of agriculture in deserts and use of aquifers to water plants, increasing diversity and population of insects will likely follow,” Jentsch, who works in the Department of Entomology at Cornell University, writes. “Stink bug species generally do well under drought conditions as long as suitable moisture and nutrients can be obtained through the utilization of irrigated plants as are found in most agricultural systems.” There could be another explanation, the Cornell entomologist puts forth.

“Burning man is generally considered a Pagan event, self-centered (versus God-centered), filled with sex, drugs and rock and roll. As stated on their site, it is an experiment in ‘community, art, radical self-expression, and radical self-reliance,’” writes Professor Jentsch, whose research focuses on the use of reduced risk approaches to improved insect pest management on pome fruit, grape and onion.

“In biblical times the Lord God would frown on such events, causing plagues of vertebrate and invertebrates to fill camps and cities with various pestilence, including insects, to get folks thinking about what they were doing,” he points out.

Considering Burning Man attendees have already spent hundreds of dollars on tickets, it might be too much to ask them to rethink what they are up to there in the Nevada desert. Yet there could be another solution for the bugs. Perhaps this year Burning Man should burn the man – as it does each year at the end of the festival – to start off Burning Man 2015, since bugs are attracted to light. Right?

Featured image from Shutterstock.

Justin O'Connell is the founder of financial technology focused Justin organized the launch of the largest Bitcoin ATM hardware and software provider in the world at the historical Hotel del Coronado in southern California. His works appear in the U.S.'s third largest weekly, the San Diego Reader, VICE and elsewhere.