Winter has been relatively mild this year, but the intermittent chills have encouraged a small invader to seek out residence in many homes. The brown marmorated stink bugs, agriculturally destructive insects with an annoying smell, have made their presence known in some of the residential and commercial locations I’ve visited in the past few weeks. These insects are true invaders, believed to have stowed away from China or Japan in shipping crates that arrived in the U.S. in 1998. Their first U.S. appearance was in Allentown, Pa., and they have since spread throughout the Mid-Atlantic and into approximately 34 states and some southern parts of Ontario and Quebec.
The little shield-shaped invaders are about 5/8 inch long. Most adults are brown, though there are also green stink bugs, which are in the same insect family, Pentatomidae. The family name refers to the five sections of their antennae.
They emit their wondrous odor, which defends them against predators, from a segment of their thorax. It’s usually easy to ID a stink bug by its, well, stink. But if you’re not entirely sure, look for some white banding on a suspect’s antennae.
During courtship, the males emit pheromones and very low frequency vibrations to attract females. Though we don’t know why, males with longer and lower vibrations appear to be more successful with lady stinkers. Eggs are small and white and are often deposited on the underside of leaves. After hatching, young stink bugs develop into adults in a little over a month.
Stink bugs are significant agricultural pests. They use their piercing, sucking mouthparts to extract plant fluids and inject some of their saliva. This action and fluid exchange can deform fruits, damage seeds and destroy plants. Their repertoire of victims includes apples, cherries, peaches, tomatoes, corn, grapes, soybeans and lima beans — and many others.
Pesticides don’t effectively control these unwelcome, destructive beasties, since populations that may be killed off are quickly replaced by new gangs. Interestingly, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is currently studying whether some species of spiders and wasps may be effective predators of the brown stink bugs.
For the local home dweller, there are some interesting DIY stink bug traps. For example, a team of Virginia Tech researchers found that filling a foil roasting pan with water and dish soap and putting a light over the pan to lure the stink bugs eradicated 14 times more stink bugs than store-bought traps.
Although I can’t vouch for its effectiveness, one of the easiest homemade traps I’ve heard about is made with aplastic two-liter soda bottle. Rinse the bottle well and cut off the upper third, then place a small battery-operated light in the bottom part. Turn the cut-off top part neck-side down and push it into the bottom part of the bottle. When the light is on, the bugs will crawl in and get trapped; then you just dump them outside. Be sure not to crush them, however, as that will release the pungent odor that gives these stinky bugs their name.
And if you want to fight stink bugs on their own terms, The Pest Rangers website suggests repelling them with essential oils, like mint, or with garlic spray. Smell that, ya little stinkers!