What Are These Stink Bugs?

Spring Bugs, the Stink BugThey are pretty big, and they are pretty ugly looking. But what are stink bugs and where do they come from? And most importantly, how do I keep them from bothering me?

Last summer the stink bug reigned supreme as the bug of annoyance across the eastern coastal states. They continue to show up in the United States, especially here in Tennessee because the stink bug (technically the brown marmorated stink bug) is an invasive species this side of the world. The stink bug has no natural predators in the United States.

How did that happen?

The stink bug is a native bug to China, Japan, and Taiwan. The bug showed up in the states in 1998, it is assumed that they traveled with plants that were shipped to the United States. Up until recent years, the stink bug lived in small numbers and resided around ornamental plants in Pennsylvania (where it was first classified in the states). So it is a relatively new bug to our parts.

What Is The Stink Bug?

The stink bug is an agriculture bug, it feeds on fruit and vegetable crops. We will start to see stink bugs showing up in spring around plants, vegetables, flowers, and fruits. They pose no harm to humans or to your home. The stink bug does put off an odor if you were to squash it, which is where it gets the appropriate name.

From the University of Tennessee Extension program: 

Late in the season, adults will enter homes and other buildings when seeking sheltered sites to overwinter, or diapause. During the several weeks of peak flight, many insects can enter homes through any small opening, mostly around windows. In Japan, the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug is a well-known nuisance pest for this reason, and the same situation is now common in Allentown, Pennsylvania in late September and early October. This nuisance behavior resulted in many complaints to the Lehigh County (Allentown) Cooperative Extension Service, and ultimately resulted in the identification of this new invasive pest. As the insect spreads to new areas, this aggregation behavior will probably again attract attention and ironically assist in monitoring its distribution. The nuisance aspect is a major concern in suburban areas and may distract from the potential future agricultural risks (Bernon 2004).

How To Get Rid of Stink Bugs?

In an interview with Galen Dively, Professor Emeritus of Entomology at the University of Maryland, who is actively trying to collect the stink bugs.

KA: Do you have any tips for making a home stink bug-proof, or at least reducing the number of bugs that enter a house?

GD: Caulk all cracks and spaces that can serve as entry portals, make sure there are no holes in windows screens and screen covers of vents in the attic, weather stripping around doors to prevent entry, and seal openings around window AC units.

KA: Do you foresee any new plans or methods to combat the stink bug with insecticides, stink bug eating wasps, or traps?

GD: The parasitic wasps probably have the greatest potential for long-term control of this invasive stink bug. USDA has brought back several species from China and are currently studying their potential non-target effects in quarantine populations, before they are released if allowed at all. One exotic species from China has been carefully tested for about three years, and USDA was about ready to petition for its release; but to our surprise, this species was found occurring naturally at Beltsville, Maryland late last summer, apparently introduced accidentally in containers, probably the same way the stink bug came into our country. Now, extensive surveys will be conducted this summer to determine if this parasitic wasp survived the winter and is spreading its distribution range, and will it impact the stink bug population.

For gardeners and organic farmers, the insecticides that are available to these users are not effective on the stink bug. We are investigating the use of attractive trap crops such as sunflower, grain sorghum and even okra. The idea is plant these crops close to or around a cash crop to divert stink bugs away from the cash crop.

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