by Connie Oswald Stofko
When the weather was hot last week, you might have been one of the many Western New York gardeners who experienced what seemed to be an invasion of brown marmorated stink bugs.
The bugs hung outside on window screens, trying to get into the house. And when they did get into the house, they crawled up walls and curtains, looking for a place to settle down for the winter.
My husband and I killed two dozen in one day!
But that’s nothing. In some rural areas, people have seen hundreds of brown marmorated stink bugs, said John Farfaglia, extension educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Niagara County.
“We are seeing an increase in calls about brown marmorated stink bugs, which can suggest an increasing presence in Western New York,” Farfaglia said. He suspects the relatively warm summer helped them increase their numbers, and that summer-like weather lasted into October.
I never noticed so many brown marmorated stink bugs during autumn before. In the past, we didn’t notice them until winter when they’re already in the house.
Southern states have been experiencing worse problems with brown marmorated stink bugs. Here’s a glimpse of what may be in store for us as the number of stink bugs increases in Western New York: Doug Inkley, senior scientist with the National Wildlife Federation, had thousands of brown marmorated stink bugs in his attic in Knoxville, Maryland back in 2011. See photos here.
Background on brown marmorated stink bugs
The brown marmorated stink bug is called a stink bug because when you step on it or it gets aggravated, it gives off a smell. The smell from just one bug can be strong, and it’s unpleasant. The bug is shaped like a shield and is big– about the size of your fingernail. It’s an invasive species from Asia.
Brown marmorated stink bugs don’t hurt people.
They spend the winter inside buildings, such as your house. You don’t have to worry about the population of brown marmorated stink bugs inside your house increasing over the winter; they mate outside in the spring.
While they’re not harmful inside your house, these ugly bugs are annoying and kind of icky. I’ve opened boxes of clothes I had stored in the closet and found one or two brown marmorated stink bugs in the box. Worse, I’ve had the bugs crawl out of the pocket of a sweatshirt–while I was wearing it. Ew! At night, we can hear them buzzing loudly around the bedroom and thumping into walls. They have landed on my poor husband’s face while he’s trying to fall asleep.
As bad as that is, brown marmorated stink bugs can be even more of a problem in your garden because they feed on a wide range of plants. See a list of plants here that they can feed on.
Compared to other places in the United States, the number of brown marmorated stink bugs in Western New York has been low since it arrived in 2010, so we haven’t been experiencing problems in gardens or farms. However, this year Farfaglia did notice damage in his garden.
“It’s not the type of damage most gardeners would notice,” Farfaglia said. There was a little blotchy discoloration on the skin of some peppers, and he recognized it as damage from brown marmorated stink bugs because he knew those bugs were there. See photos of damage to fruit and vegetables caused by the brown marmorated stink bug here.
As the number of brown marmorated stink bugs (also referred to as BMSB) increases, the amount of damage will likely increase. According to Stop BMSB, a group looking to understand and control the bug, the brown marmorated stink bug poses an unprecedented threat to U.S. farmers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded a $5.7 million grant to ten institutions across the country to develop a coordinated defense. Read updates on research on their homepage or see scientific reports here.
Dealing with brown marmorated stink bugs
In your garden
There’s nothing to do right now about brown marmorated stink bugs outside, Farfaglia said. It’s too late in the year to spray any kind of pesticide; that would be done in July or August. Besides, the bugs haven’t been enough of a problem yet to require spraying in our area.
Next year you might spray a pesticide if you see damage to a plant and/or there is a significant population of brown marmorated stink bugs in your garden, he said.
“I have not seen that yet,” Farfaglia added.
If there is a concern next year, we’ll keep you posted.
If you consider using a pesticide next year, you must choose a pesticide that is specifically labeled for brown marmorated stink bugs and labeled for use on plants.
“I stress that you should read the label of the product you’re using,” Farfaglia said.
Inside your home
The best way to deal with brown marmorated stink bugs is to prevent them from entering your home in the first place, Farfaglia said. You have to seal gaps and cracks so they can’t get in, and now is the time to do that.
Get more details on how to build them out here. Do a thorough job, but since caulk can shrink and you might miss an opening here or there, you should go back and check yearly.
There are also pesticides that can be used to keep brown marmorated stink bugs out of your house, Farfaglia said. They can be sprayed on the foundation of your house, the area where the foundation meets the siding, around vents and other small spaces and cracks where the bugs might get in. Make sure that the product is labeled for brown marmorated stink bugs and that it is labeled for use indoors as well as outdoors.
Farfaglia also mentioned that newer traps for box elder bugs sound promising for use with brown marmorated stink bugs.
If you already have brown marmorated stink bugs in your house, don’t try to kill them with pesticide, Farfaglia said. People may think that using a fogger will get rid of all the brown marmorated stink bugs in the house, but it doesn’t because the bugs can live inside your walls where the fogger doesn’t reach. You’ll still find the bugs emerging during the winter.
Even worse, the bugs that pesticides do kill will remain indoors. If there are a lot of dead stink bugs, the smell can be terrible, according to this guide on dealing with brown marmorated stink bugs from the Integrated Pest Management Program at Cornell University.
And if that’s not bad enough, all those carcasses of brown marmorated stink bugs could attract scavengers, resulting in an infestation of carpet beetles or other scavengers.
If you see a few brown marmorated stink bugs around your house, just squish them. They move slowly, so it’s easy.
Use a tissue or piece of scrap paper or cardboard and try to squish the bug between the paper or whatever it is you’re using. Try not to squish the bug against the wall. These are big bugs and you’ll have to wipe away the residue. (You may have to wash the smell off your fingers after squishing one of these bugs. If that bothers you, choose cardboard rather than tissues or paper.)
Lots of people also recommend vacuuming up the bugs. I tried this, but if you have just a few bugs, hauling the vacuum cleaner around from room to room is a lot of extra work. Plus, these bugs can have a tight grip on a screen, so you have to maneuver the nozzle under their legs in order to vacuum them up. Besides, the blowing air from the vacuum cleaner spreads the smell around.
If you have a whole crowd of brown marmorated stink bugs in one spot, I can see where using a vacuum cleaner can be useful
What are your experiences with the brown marmorated stink bug? Please leave a comment below.