Invasion of the Stinkbugs

Entomologist Gary Hevel answers questions about the brown marmorated stinkbug that is invading homes along the Mid-Atlantic

Here come the stink bugs...

If you have no idea what a stinkbug is then consider yourself lucky. As the days become shorter and the air turns cold, hordes of an arrowhead-shaped bug, known as the brown marmorated stinkbug (BMSB), are making their way into homes along the Mid-Atlantic and becoming quite the nuisance. In order to fully understand these creatures, and more importantly how to get rid of them, we asked entomologist Gary Hevel at the Natural History Museum for some tips.

Clearly stinkbugs have been planning their invasion of Mid-Atlantic homes for some time now. Is there any cause for their sudden increase this fall?

Authorities are uncertain on this question. In general, alien pests are able to increase their numbers because there are no natural predators or parasites in the new territory.

As we prepare to do battle with the stinkbugs, what should we arm ourselves with in case they invade our home? Are there any non-caustic remedies?

There are a couple of easy and practical methods of dealing with the critters. Large numbers can be handled by introducing them to a vacuum cleaner. A second way is to place them in a jar of soapy water (where they drown). Tossing them into a toilet bowl is a waste of water.

These seem like pretty rude bugs. Eating produce without paying and then coming inside uninvited. What can we be doing to keep their population down?

Yes, these serious pests are annoying in houses, but suck juices from fruits and vegetables  in yards, orchards and farms. Other than vacuums and soapy water, some people have suggested eating them. This is done to some extent in other countries, and they provide two to three times more protein than steaks. Fortunately, research scientists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture are developing two control methods.  1) The use of pheromones (air chemicals) to attract them to traps where they are chemically killed.  2) The use of a small parasitic wasp that has been imported from their original habitat.

Where did stink bugs come from in the first place?

BMSBs are long known in China, Japan and adjacent countries, but have hitchhiked by some manner to the United States. Their encore appearance was in the late 1990s in Pennsylvania.

Even I like to see the good in everyone. What positive qualities do stinkbugs possess?

In their natural territory, they are part of the biological food chain, where they are primary targets of at least one parasitic wasp. Their other qualities, in the view of humankind, are negative.

If they’re lucky enough not to end up smushed on a rolled-up newspaper, how long do stink bugs typically live?

Eggs hatch in the early part of the year, and these bugs slowly grow through the season, gaining their wings. Adults seek shelter in houses and other human-made structures for overwintering, then emerge in the spring to mate and lay eggs. In the United States, the BMSBs have only one generation per year. Adults most likely die after their first season, and go to Stink Bug Heaven if they've been good...and we know that they haven't. As researchers study these bugs, their life span will become better known.

And when do stinkbugs stink? I’ve stepped on one, but it didn’t stink.

All kinds of stink bugs have holes on the sides of their bodies for the passing of unpleasant gasses to protect them from predators. The smell may be experienced best by holding a BMSB near your nose and squeezing it (the bug, not your nose).

Bedbugs, the previous media darlings of the bug world, enjoy feeding on human blood, should we worry about bodily harm from stinkbugs?

No. The good part of the BMSB story is that they can not bite or sting. Otherwise, they are abundantly more annoying than a lengthy visit from one's least favorite relative.

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