Stink Bugs An Autumn Nuisance For Homeowners

The brown marmorated stink bug is flying, crawling, and piggy-backing its way into Fairfield County. The bark-colored, shield-shaped bug from Asia, about one-inch in length with long, segmented antennae, was first identified in Pennsylvania in 1998. Since then, it has made its way into at least 30 other states, where it spends the spring and summer months feasting on — and heavily damaging — fruit and vegetable crops.

What makes it particularly pesty, as its numbers increase in an area, is its penchant for moving indoors during the cool months of September and October. While the stink bug does not damage homes as it overwinters, it will dart about, its little wings thrumming. Multiple invaders can be disturbingly disruptive.

Squishing the semihard bugs or vacuuming up a small swarm allows the homeowner to appreciate the insect’s name. Likened by some as a cilantro-like or sweaty sock smell, it is at the very least an unpleasant odor emitted from the bug upon its demise.

Dr Chris Maier of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (CAED) in New Haven is an entomologist who is studying the impact of the brown marmorated stink bug on crops.

The first single report of the brown marmorated stink bug in Connecticut came to the attention of the CAES in 2008, said Dr Maier, in West Haven. Since then, the number of reports has followed a steady upward trend, with the most reports of all this fall. “They are great hitchhikers. They’ve even been found in mail boxes,” he said, explaining the unrelenting spread of the insect.

“We are receiving reports from all over the state,” Dr Maier said, “except for the extreme northwestern and northeastern parts of Connecticut,” he said. While Mid-Atlantic states such as Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey have experienced incidences with clusters of thousands, so far, the reports in Connecticut have been much smaller.

“We’ve had a couple of large clusters of hundreds, not thousands, reported,” said Dr Maier.

While the brown marmorated (referring to the marbled markings on the insect’s body) stink bug is a nuisance pest, Dr Maier and other entomologists are more concerned about the destruction of crops.

“We’re keeping our eyes open to see when [the stink bugs] start creating crop damage. You hear about the impact on apples and peaches, but the damage they can do to vegetable crops is far greater. There are really a large number of fruits, nuts, vegetable, and ornamental plants that [the stink bug] will damage,” he warned.

Currently, homeowners in Fairfield County are experiencing the annoying pests more than farmers. Once stink bugs have decided to make a house its winter haven, it can be difficult to rid the structure of the infestation. Exterior application by a licensed exterminator can be helpful in the short term. Caulking any cracks around doors or windows, vents, or around air conditioners, before stink bugs become an indoor problem, is highly recommended. Although it may be tempting to kill a mass of the bugs indoors with a spray pesticide, most are not particularly effective. While it may mean changing a vacuum cleaner’s filter and bag frequently to get rid of the odor, vacuuming up stink bugs is a means of keeping down the population indoors.

But before vacuuming up the bugs, Dr Maier said that the CAES is interested in receiving specimens. Place a living or dead brown marmorated stink bug into a noncrushable container, such as a pill bottle, and mail it to Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station -- ATTN Dr Chris Maier, 123 Huntington Street, New Haven CT 06511.

“Include contact information, especially the street address, and the date the bug was collected,” requested Dr Maier. One report per household, per season, is adequate, he added.

If the bugs are congregating in cooler areas of the house, homeowners may not notice the bugs much over the winter.

“On warmer winter days, they might become more active, and in the spring, they will probably move toward the windows as they start to look for a way out,” Dr Maier said.

The good news is, stink bugs will not reproduce over the winter, and most will likely find their way out come spring. 

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