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Stink Bugs — A Smelly Situation



As summer comes to an end each year, most people think they’re safe from the nasty insects we call stink bugs. Unfortunately, this usually isn’t the case, especially if you live in a warmer region. The colder months are when stink bugs sneak through the cracks in the walls of your home and hide in tiny crevices, attempting to stay warm.

We’ve all woken in the early hours of the morning to the incessant buzzing of a stink bug at some point in our lives. Pets chase after them looking for a tasty treat while most of us hide under our covers wishing it to vanish into thin air. I think I speak for most people when I say that stink bugs are widely disliked. Not only are they a nuisance, but they pose a severe threat to our environment.


 

Origins

The stink bug, originating in Eastern Asian countries such as Japan, Korea, and China, was introduced to the United States in the mid to late 1990s. This introduction was not intentional, yet it likely occurred as a result of accidental hitchhiking onto transnational cargo.

The stink bug first showed up in Pennsylvania in 1996 and wasn’t identified until around 2001. In the years since, stink bugs have spread to many states in the Mid-Atlantic area including New York, New Jersey and Virginia. 44–47 states have claimed to have stink bugs as of today.

Identification

Adult stink bugs are usually six-legged, dark brown, and oval-shaped. All stink bugs have two long antenna and wings that allow them to fly from place to place. Reaching almost 2 centimeters in length, stink bugs can be compared to the diameter of a penny, which is approximately 0.75 in or 1.9 cm.

The scientific name for the brown stink bug is Halyomorpha halys, or brown marmorated stink bug. These stink bugs get their name from the foul odor released from their glands when they’re killed or feel threatened. The purpose of this mechanism is to protect it from predators, but the stench is also released when humans crush a stink bug, as the gland is located on its abdomen.

While adult stink bugs are known for flying around rooms, young stink bugs, nymphs, are flightless, as their wings are still in development. Brown stink bug nymphs are reddish in color and quite small. Nymphs molt 5 times, each time growing bigger and further developing their wings. Once they reach their last molt, they are almost as large as adults.

Environmental Impacts

While stink bugs don’t bite or do any physical harm to humans, they have a significant impact on our environment. Most stink bugs are herbivores, including the brown stink bug, although some species of stink bugs do eat other insects.

Feeding Habits Brown stink bugs create agricultural issues as they eat various types of fruits and other crops. Some foods they eat include corn, cherries, grapes, and peaches. Produce items eaten by stink bugs usually develop brown splotches and spots, causing parts of the produce to rot and give off an unhealthy appearance.

Surprisingly, some of these food items still make their way onto shelves at the grocery store despite being contaminated by stink bugs. Most shoppers avoid purchasing fruits and veggies that have visual defects or look unhealthy. However, stink bugs usually don’t do too much harm to a crop. As gross as it may sound, food touched by stink bugs is fine to eat.

The Edge Effect & Food Waste A term associated with stink bug infestations in crops is the edge effect. The edge effect describes the phenomenon where insects destroy the outer rim of a crop field. This can lead to massive amounts of agricultural waste which decreases profit for farmers.

According to RTS, 2.5 billion tons of food is wasted annually worldwide. Shockingly, the US makes up a large percentage of this food waste, producing around 60 million tons of food waste each year.

Food waste is not only an economic concern as poverty rates continue to climb, but an environmental issue as productive efficiency decreases. As these crops are destroyed by stink bugs, farmers try to compensate for these losses by planting more crops on their fields. This overuse of land almost always leads to depletion of vital nutrients in the soil which can hinder future crop growth.

Plant Damage While most of the impacts of stink bugs on the environment pertain to US agriculture and human food waste, they also cause damage to plants. When stink bugs chew on leaves, they create holes in plants that leave them vulnerable to deadly pathogens.

Sometimes, if a disease isn’t discovered early enough in the crop, it can spread to and endanger the entire field of plants.

Extermination

Considering that stink bugs are invasive and don’t have any predators in the US, it’s important to know of ways to handle a stink bug infestation in your home.

Traps & Pesticides Today, various sprays and traps are on the market that can be used to combat an infestation of stink bugs. Pesticides for stink bugs can be bought at most department stores or even made on your own at home.

2 examples of stink bug traps include:

  • Light traps - Stink bugs are attracted to the light and trapped when they near the contraption.

  • Glue traps - Sticky film catches stink bugs if they fly too close and the insects can be safely moved outdoors.

By Hand While this may seem like an obvious solution, it is worth mentioning. For those who only get the occasional stink bug and don’t want to harm them, simply scooping them into your hand and transporting them outdoors is another solution. Stink bugs are not a threat to humans and do not bite, so this alternative isn’t as scary as some people may think.

Biological Control Biological control is another possible solution for stink bugs. Biological control of stink bugs consists of introducing a species that preys on stinkbugs to the area of infestation in order to control their population growth. One such predator of stink bugs is the Samurai wasp.

However, biological control is usually only effective in outdoor settings. I doubt many people would be all that thrilled at introducing a hive of wasps into their home to kill stink bugs. If you’re involved in the agriculture business or live on a farm, this solution may work for you.

Sealing Entryways As stink bugs travel into your home during the cooler months, sealing ways of entry is an excellent preventative measure to take. Common entryways are windows, doors, chimneys, and any other small cracks.

Installing window screens is extremely useful for keeping unwanted insects out of your home because most insects are too large to fit through the mesh of the screen. Silicone caulk can be used to seal the cracks in doors, windows, and other entryways to keep out any unwanted guests.

Exterminators Hiring an exterminator to help solve an infestation is another possible solution. This is probably one of the more extreme solutions to eliminating these pesky insects. Only hire an exterminator if the infestation is on the larger side, not just one or two stink bugs in your home.



 

Recap Stink bugs, originating in East Asia, are a widely-known invasive species in the United States. They can easily be identified by their oval-shaped bodies and ability to fly. Stink bugs pose various environmental concerns such as food waste, plant damage, and nutrient depletion in soil. Several solutions to stink bug infestations include pesticides, stink bug traps, biological control, sealing entryways, and hiring an exterminator.

If you liked this blog and want to learn more about other invasive species, check out our Medium profile. Stay updated and active by following the Environmental Defense Initiative on Medium and all of our social media platforms!

Author: Ann Catechis

Editor: Emma Mazzotta






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