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Rid Your Home of Stink Bugs
by Annette Ipsan
Stink vi. 1 to give off a strong, unpleasant smell. 2 to be very offensive; be hateful or abhorrent. – n. 3 [slang] a strong public reaction, as one of outrage, censure, protest, etc.
Stink bugs stink. Parts of Washington County have been overrun with this unpleasant and odorous pest. It swarmed on screen doors in warmer weather and is now invading our homes. What is it? Is it harmful? How can you get rid of it? Here are a few answers.
Stink bugs are true bugs in the insect order Hemiptera. There are many different types of stink bugs, but the one that is plaguing us now is the brown marmorated stink bug, Halyomorpha halys. Accidentally introduced ten years ago in Pennsylvania, it bears the classic shield shape of its family and grows to be about 1⁄2-inch long. Dappled brown, it has a tan underside and a series of black and white markings along the edge of its body.
The good news is that stink bugs aren’t harmful. They are just a nuisance. Stink bugs are attracted to the outside of our homes on warm fall days, hunting for protected places to spend the winter much like ladybugs and box elder bugs. When it gets colder they sneak inside, coming out in warm spells and again in the spring.
The brown marmorated stink bug is an agricultural pest of shade and fruit trees, vegetables and soybeans in its native range of China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan. It sucks the sap from plants, damaging their buds, leaves, flowers and fruits. Since it pierces the plant to feed, it causes spotting, distortion and a pathway for disease.
Producing four to six generations each year in Asia, this stink bug graciously limits itself to one generation annually in our climate. It hasn’t proven itself a serious pest here – at least to crops. But, it has been spotted in Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New Jersey and is being watched closely by both growers and scientists.
How do stink bugs get inside your home? Most of them sneak in through tiny cracks around doors and windows. So, grab your caulk gun and seal around your window and door trim. Fill cracks under and behind baseboards and around exhaust fans or lights in the ceiling. Repair or replace any damaged screens. A stink bug’s body looks chubby, but it is soft and can squeeze through a very small opening. So, seal up your home and reap the benefits of a bug-free zone and lower heating bills.
What should you do with the stink bugs you find, both dead and alive? You can toss them outside, where the freezing temperatures will kill them or vacuum up a few if you are squeamish. However, if you vacuum up many of them, toss the bag into the trash
afterward. Otherwise, you will find out why they are called stink bugs. Their smell when squashed or gathered in numbers is quite unpleasant.
Don’t spray insecticides inside your home to combat stink bugs. Most insecticides don’t work against stink bugs and none are safe to use inside your home. There are a few insecticides that can be applied in the fall outside your home to kill stink bugs. However, they only last a few days and won’t kill the many stink bugs that will be around long after you spray.
Stink bugs stink. Like the Japanese beetle and other invasive insects, they were introduced by accident, have few predators and fewer controls. Fortunately, they aren’t harmful, just pesky, the perfect test of our ability to “take the bad with the good.”
Annette Ipsan is the Extension Educator for Horticulture and the Master Gardener program in Washington County for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. She can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1604 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
This column first appeared in the Herald-Mail on February 6, 2007.