Thursday, July 5, 2012

Do you hate stinkbugs?

By Sandy Grimwade

Anyone who lives in this area has been bugged by stinkbugs. They creep into cracks in windows and doors, they incompetently zoom around lights, and when dead they give off a nasty smell. Why are we seeing these bugs in such large numbers over the past few years and how can we keep them out of our homes and gardens?

Brown marmorated stink bug adult
Copyright Steven Jacobs, Penn State University
When people talk about “Stink bugs” nowadays they are usually referring to the brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys). Pennsylvania is the center of this stinkbug invasion -- they are a species native to China and east Asia that was first seen in Allentown in 1996. In only 16 years they have spread across the USA and have become a significant agricultural pest, damaging mostly fruit crops and spreading viral diseases. They also feed on ornamental plants though they do not do severe damage. There is a great series of slides on the Rutgers University web site showing the scary spread of the stink bug over the past several years. 

Contrary to legend, stink bugs do not bite people or animals --  their mouth parts are not designed for biting. However, they are not great fliers and they can smack into you, leaving a welt.

What can we do about them and should we, as home gardeners and home owners worry about them? They certainly can be a nuisance in the home, and we want to keep them out if we can. The best way to do this is do make sure that they are excluded from entering by blocking up cracks around windows, doors etc. Check around your home with a caulk gun and fill up any cracks or gaps you find.

Once they are in the house, again, it is old-fashioned mechanical methods that are best. My favorite technique is catch-and-flush using toilet tissue. If you squash them, vacuum them, or trash them they will start to smell. Another popular way of catching stink bugs is to flick them into a jar of water containing a little dishwashing soap. Soapy water is lethal to stink bugs and once you have a batch of dead bugs in a jar you can easily flush them. Although stinkbugs can be killed with insecticides, it is preferable not to use insecticides inside the house.

Scientists and entomologists are still working on the best ways to control stink bug infestations on crop plants and ornamentals. Apparently common insecticides are only moderately effective and there is evidence that the stinkbugs can become resistant to insecticides.  Finally, those little brown bombers are mobile so even if you kill them off in your garden, another batch of bugs will fly in from a non-treated area.

Penn State Extension has a fact sheet about stinkbugs, as do many other state extension services. There are also a number of websites of varying reliability and entertainment value about stinkbugs and their control (e.g. Some people really hate stinkbugs.

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