By Marcia Anderson
As cooler weather approaches, pests try to find their way into warmer habitats, like schools, homes and barns. Stink bugs, including the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB), are no exception.
Late last autumn, BMSBs invaded my home, and for the next four months my house was overrun with the most putrid smelling bugs that I have ever encountered. Since nobody wants their classroom, kitchen or home to smell like rotting food, it’s very important to have a pest management plan in place before you begin noticing stink bugs.
Accidently imported from Asia into the United States, the BMSB was first observed in Pennsylvania in the late 1990s. With few natural predators in North America, they have since caused catastrophic damage to fruit trees, vegetable crops, ornamental plants and forest trees in the mid-Atlantic. They are now widely seen in forests, farms, and suburban landscapes in at least 42 states (see map below).
Stink bugs originally got their name from the rotting smell they give off when threatened or crushed. If you, or a student, steps on one or otherwise crushes it, you will quickly learn how they got their name.
Stink bugs are shield shaped. If you confuse the BMSB with the native brown stink bug you aren’t alone. They look very similar. The underside of the brown stink bug looks yellowish while the BMSB underside appears brown-gray. The BMSB can also be distinguished from other stink bugs by its speckled appearance.
The brown marmorated stink bug isn’t a picky eater. They will feed on ornamental plants close to buildings, and can easily find cracks and crevices in foundations, window frames, and soffits. The bugs flatten their bodies and squeeze through windows, cracks or other openings within the walls. Once inside a warm building, they look for a water source and meal. They target bathrooms and kitchens, which have ready water sources, and rooms with plants. They will even fall into pet water dishes and fish bowls.
Want to avoid a winter long battle? Be pest wise. Follow an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach. Inspection, detection, exclusion and maintenance are a few of the key components of IPM, a smart, sensible, and sustainable approach to pest control. Often, it takes detective work and ingenuity to discover where pests are coming from. When you spot pests, try to find where they are entering the building. On your inspection bring a strong flashlight and take good notes, recording problem areas, entry locations, and areas needing repair.
Make sure all of your window screens fit securely and tightly, vents are screened, and door and window frames have no gaps. Sealing around baseboards and areas where pipes and wires enter your building will help keep stink bugs out. Expandable foam can be used for larger gaps. Check under doors to ensure door sweeps are in good condition and do not leave any gaps. In homes, other major points of entry are fireplaces, chimneys, and firewood. Close your flu when the fireplace is not in use to keep bugs out.
If small numbers of stink bugs find their way indoors, remove them by hand or vacuum them up. Be warned – it may permanently infuse their stink into your vacuum. Remove the dead bugs as the smell of them rotting will attract even more stink bugs and other insects. I quickly found the easiest way to get rid of them was to give them the eternal swim (flush) down the porcelain whirlpool.
Diatomaceous earth can be used for limited stink bug control outdoors, in basements, and around foundations. Fumigation doesn’t work, and if you try to squash them…well, just say I warned you. I found that dish washing liquid mixed in a 50/50 concentration with water will kill the bugs. Pour some of this mixture into a container and let it sit out. The bugs will be attracted to the moisture, fall in, and drown.
The good news is that this pest poses no substantial risk to structures or people. However, they can be a horrid nuisance. The bad news is that there are no viable chemical strategies for brown marmorated stink bug control in agricultural settings. Insecticides are of limited use and resistance to some may even be developing.
So, what is currently being done about the BMSB? With funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Research Initiative, a team of more than 50 researchers from several universities, including Rutgers, Cornell, Penn State, Virginia Tech, Maryland, Delaware, North Carolina, Washington, and Oregon, along with the Northeast IPM Center, are looking to identify, monitor, and find management solutions that will protect our food, farms, homes, and schools from this pest.
For more on the BMSB, visit the Stop BMSB website.
About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.