DOBSON — Many press releases have characterized the expansion of the non-native brown marmorated stink bug across America (BMSB) as an invasion. North Carolina Cooperative Extension Agent Joanna Radford’s description of the bugs intrusion into local houses likens it to someone who showed up for a house tour and moved right in.
Radford said the coming of colder weather encourages the bugs’ hibernation behavior and they begin to search for ways into homes to overwinter before they emerge in late April or May to mate and lay eggs. Radford said the pest is native to Asia and was first collected around 2001 in Allentown, Pa. It was first reported in North Carolina in 2009.
Since then, entomologists have seen a steady increase in their population. This year, populations are at an all time high. Experts theorize the bugs hitched a ride to the United States on packing crates from countries including China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan.
“It’s attracted to apples, peaches, peppers, soybeans and other valuable crops,” said Radford. “They are simply trying to find a hiding place to spend the winter. The problem is they have no natural enemies here. Fortunately for home owners they are harmless except for the smell.”
Anyone who has killed a stink bug knows how it got its name. Its odor has been described as cilantro gone very, very bad. Radford explained that the bugs have shells that resemble shields. They are relatives of the squash bug, a consistent pest in gardens. Brown marmorated stink bugs have black and white banding on their antennae and the edge of their back.
“This is a major potential problem for our farmers,” said Radford. “These bugs do great harm to fruits and vegetables. They inject saliva into the plant, liquefying its tissues so they can eat the plant easier. They even harm the plant’s seeds and feed on blooms. It is a very resourceful bug.”
Radford explained during the summer, these insects spend their time on plants in the landscape before cool weather arrives. In the fall, they migrate to structures and can be seen hanging out on exterior walls. They get into houses through cracks around doors and windows.
“We do not recommend using pesticides as a solution,” added Radford. “Many of these sprays are toxic and most reports I’ve received are that stink bugs are sneaking into homes one or two at a time. Spraying over and over again on limited numbers of insects is just not practical or safe in the long run.”
She suggested vacuuming up the bugs and then discarding of them in the cleaner bags. Radford suggested using panty hose inside the vacuum hose as a filter to catch the bugs and then discarding of them if the cost of cleaner bags is an issue. The good news is that weather has triggered the bugs and it will eventually end this behavior.
“I would think the overwintering behavior will play out by the end of October and we will probably see a decrease in stink bugs because of their life cycle,” said Radford.
Homeowners are encouraged to try to put up physical barriers to keep the pests out. Installing tight fitting sweeps at the bottom of doors and adjusting weather stripping to close cracks around doors will help. Caulking around windows, doors and fascia boards and sealing around openings where cables or pipes enter foundation or siding also will help. Homeowners also should replace or repair damaged window screens to keep the insects out.
She also said homeowners will probably be seeing an increase in ladybugs in the next weeks because they also will begin looking for places to overwinter. Radford said that her office has not received many reports of the ladybugs being a nuisance.
Radford said it all goes back to physical barriers keeping the bugs out because pesticides are only temporary and any cracks not sealed will allow the pests to enter a home. She said ladybugs are considered beneficial insects because they eat aphids, which are small insects that damage plants by eating sap from the stems and leaves.
She said ladybugs are not toxic but they do have an unpleasant odor. Radford said the smell they produce as defense is a byproduct of their food. Both stink bugs and ladybugs are attracted to lighter colored homes and ladybugs tend to favor south facing or sunny sides to houses.
Reach David Broyles at email@example.com or 719-1952.