Many of us are dealing with a plague of critters wanting a warmer spot to spend the winter and more often than not, that means insects. North America has its share of native insects looking for warm spot, but there are also foreign invaders that have made their ways to our shores and they seem to be the most irritating. The brown marmorated stinkbug is one of those pests. Halyomorpha halys is native to Asia and was first noted along the northeastern seaboard around 1998. Most likely, it hitched a ride in shipping containers as it hunted for a sheltered spot to spend the winter and ended up a stowaway. With no natural predators and an unlimited supply of food, it has quickly become an agricultural pest that annoys even suburban homeowners with its desire to come inside their homes.
This invader is easily distinguished from the native stinkbugs (which are no less destructive) by the unique white bands on its legs and antennae. It is about ¾ of an inch long (1.7cm) and just about as wide. There are also small white spots along its outer abdomen that the North American natives lack. It has become a world-wide agricultural pest laying waste to orchards, soybean fields, corn crops and vineyards. More than likely its migration was facilitated by its habit of finding places to stow away like shipping containers and crates. This has expanded its range all across the breadbaskets of North America (including Canada and Mexico), South America, Europe, South Africa and Australia.
This insect has a rapid rate of reproduction with females capable of laying about 500 eggs in their lifetimes, but with only about 5 weeks to maturity, many generations can hatch from just one 'mother bug'. In its native lands, there are predators that keep the population in check, however the insect-eating birds and small animals in other regions do not recognize it as a food source, so it reproduces without any controls. Insecticides seem to have very little effect unless they come in direct contact with the insects as well, so farmers despise it. This isn't an insect that chews leaves and seedlings, it waits until there are fruits ripening and sucks the life from them by piercing each one with its beak. Where an infestation is heavy, farmers and gardeners see fruits with hard, dimples pockmarked all over them. The harvest is not marketable and often rotten on the interior. It isn't a picky pest either, happily slurping up the juices of most fruits and vegetables around the world, so it adapts to the local cuisine quickly and there is evidence that the insecticides that are currently in use are losing their effectiveness. There's been some success with pheromone traps, however those need to be placed away from crops because the scent draws in insects from far and wide. All in all, it is a very adaptable and efficient pest.
Even if you're not a farmer, the brown marmorated stinkbug can be a thorn in your side. When fall weather turns cooler, the adults search for sheltered areas to overwinter and just like the shipping containers they used to move about the globe, our homes are a perfect place. Most often, a homeowner will see one or two that they can easily flush down the toilet, however these first invaders have left a scented calling card telling their brothers and sisters there is a nice, warm place to hibernate. The crowds of bugs gather and this is when their aptly described common name rears its stinky head.
During the coldest parts of winter, these insects hunker down in cracks, corners and crevices, causing no one any problems. But when the temperatures moderate and a warming trend happens, they wake up and bumble about. Homeowners swat at them and they release a odorous substance used in the wild to ward off predators. People describe the smell as a combination of spoiled cheese and dirty sweat socks. The more the bugs are agitated, the more they stink, so a swarm of them can be quite disgusting. And the smell lingers long after the bugs are disposed of. Many folks might think that using the vacuum cleaner to suck the bugs off the walls is a good idea, however, the sucked-up bugs release their stink and coat the innards of your vacuum cleaner with the aroma. If you have an infestation, it might be better to dedicate a cheap machine to stink bug duty, rather than using the one you use to clean the rest of your house. If you have just a few, then flushing is a good idea, however, the idea of using that much water to dispose of a tiny bug is quite wasteful. Keeping a jar with water mixed with a bit of dish liquid to flick the intruders into is a frugal way to keep the population down, but prevention is the best defense. Seal all cracks and loose boards outside. Caulk any openings and lower storm windows. If the bugs can't get in, then they can't stink up your home.
Invasive insects with few predators is a real problem world-wide and while we can't put the genie back in the bottle, being aware of the problem and doing our best to eradicate them on our own properties might help them at bay, so be diligent and dispose of them when you see them.
Images courtesy of BugFiles