The Miami Valley has been besieged by a plague, and it isn’t salmonella or Funk music. The pestilence in question is the stink bug, that creepy flying insect that somehow manages to get into your home without you knowing it until you see one. You really know they’re present if you accidentally step on one, and you are overcome by the noxious odor they emit upon dying.
Now that we’ve all said “Eww!” and “Gross!,” let’s get down to basics. The stink bug, or Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, is an insect in the family Pentatomidae that is native to China, Japan, and Taiwan. The stink bug was accidentally introduced into the United States from China or Japan, it is believed to have hitched a ride as a stowaway in packing crates or on various types of machinery. The first documented specimen was collected in Allentown, Pennsylvania in 1998 and the pest has since spread to 42 states and two Canadian provinces.
The stink bug gets its name from the odor, likened to smelly socks, released when the bug is crushed. It is considered to be an agricultural pest, causing damage to a variety of orchard fruits. It poses severe agricultural problems in seven states, and it is a nuisance in nineteen others. The insect is more of a problem in farm fields and gardens than in homes, as it feeds on a range of ornamental and food plants, and researchers are still assessing the damage it can do to fruit and soybean crops. In the house, it’s little more than an annoyance. Stink bugs won’t bite, sting, or cause damage, but they can invade in large numbers.
The bugs get in through tiny cracks, holes, and other openings in a home’s exterior. Windows that seal poorly are a common entry point, as are soffits and roof vents where the screening has broken down. Often, they’ll emerge from behind baseboards, window or door trim, exhaust fans, or ceiling lights.
Ohio State University’s Extension program researches all things agricultural in Ohio. According to their findings, this year’s onslaught of stink bugs began early, due in part to a warmer-than-usual winter and wet spring. Entomologists at OSU kept a close eye on insect species that survived the winter that may have appeared earlier and more abundantly.
OSU points out that the bugs prefer to spend the winter in homes or buildings, where they tend to be insulated from the cold temperatures. They overwinter as adults, emerge the following spring, disperse to other tree hosts, and lay eggs. They are not harmful to people, and they do not cause any damage to buildings. A simple way to remove stink bugs is to collect them in a plastic bag or jar and put them in the freezer for a day or so to kill them. You can also vacuum them and toss them outside, but Extension advises that you use a nylon stocking as a filter inside your vacuum cleaner to reduce the risk of odor. Also, they may crawl out of the vacuum if not immediately killed. Extension does not recommend insecticides in the home, mainly because more insects will continue coming in regardless.
The Silent Terror
Stink bugs have probably caused more near heart attacks and panic episodes than mice, because you don’t realize they’ve invaded your space until you come face to face with one. The need to control stink bugs in our homes poses a dire need, because they’re unpleasant to have around indoors. A child or toddler could easily mistake this insect for a little toy, and you know what happens when you try to touch this critter—you get an automatic stink spray as a reward. It gets worse for people who have nasal problems and allergies, due to the dust and germs the bugs bring along for the ride.
Stink bug horror stories abound, and nearly everyone has had a close encounter of the creepy kind. From my own perspective, Thanksgiving this year was interrupted by a terrified shriek from my significant other’s 8-year-old granddaughter, who discovered one sitting in front of her on the kitchen table. You’d have thought a bee had stung her.
Keith P. is a local contractor who specializes in remodeling bathrooms. “They just keep crawling out of corners of walls and door trim, and surprise me,” he says. “They just creep me out.”
Victoria D. of Dayton noted the damage they can do in your garden. “They rot your tomato plants before they start to turn ripe,” she says. “They’re just nasty, and they ruin whatever you plant.”
Ed M. of Englewood pointed out the seasonal adjustments the average homeowner needs to make. “You have to cover the air conditioner with plastic since they enter the home through the vents.”
According to snowbird Carol G., who winters in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, they are prevalent in the Sunshine State as well. “They are ugly and can be a nuisance. They spray around our complex regularly to keep such pests away. That is a necessity down here.”
Todd W. of Dayton owns a banquet and catering company. “We don’t have too much trouble with stink bugs,” he says, “but we’re very careful about checking produce and fruit deliveries so they don’t sneak in. We see a few of them, but honestly, gnats are our biggest problem. We’re always on the lookout for stink bugs, though, especially in our banquet areas.”
The following write-up was found on Trip Advisor. Out of consideration, I won’t reveal the name or location of the hotel, but it wasn’t in the Dayton area.
“We booked a king room, the first night was uneventful, however the next morning, my wife found a live stinkbug in the bathroom with her. After flushing it down the toilet, I went to the front desk to see about moving to another room. I did not find any live bugs, but did find, and flush a few dead ones. Upon packing up to leave, I checked under the bed, to be sure none of our possessions were kicked under there by accident, and counted about 3 or 4 more dead stinkbugs under there.”
The prevalence of stink bugs has altered people’s behavior and habits, much like the bed bug outbreak several years ago. When you enter your home, you’re more likely to check the threshold to be sure you aren’t letting in any uninvited guests. If you stay in a motel when you travel, you may think twice before using the dresser and opt to leave your clothes in your suitcase. And you probably double check your bag for critters before you head home. They’ve also impacted what you pay for fresh fruits and vegetables by ruining crops and reducing yields at harvest time.
What’s a homeowner to do?
Food and environment both have attractions for stink bugs. They are mostly attracted by juicy plants, including pepper, citrus, cucumber, tomato, sunflower, apple, pear, plum, and grape. As for environment, they breed in warm weather because they are cold-blooded and need external heat to keep them alive. It has been noticed that they are also attracted to light-colored houses or places where they find clear sun exposure. Inside houses, their favorite places are windowsills and doorframes, owing to the availability of suitable temperature.
Spraying synthetic chemicals outside the home, removing juicy plants from the surrounding of the home, and switching off the lights when they’re not needed, are some of the ways to prevent stink bugs from getting inside. Using soapy water to drown the bugs and their eggs is an effective method that helps wipe them out. Homeowners should repair or replace damaged window and vent screens, remove window-mounted air conditioners, replace worn door sweeps and weather stripping, and seal openings with caulk or foam.
There are some natural stink bug repellents that are potent enough to help you in getting rid of these relentless bugs. Of them, the most effective natural product one can use is Diatomaceous Earth. It acts as a dehydrating agent on bugs and kills them. Wherever it is used, it repels and discourages the stink bugs. You can also make another repellent by soaking a few shredded cigarettes in water overnight, adding a few drops of soap, and spraying it over the bugs, as well as anywhere they congregate.
Sonshine Commercial Cleaning of Dayton has been providing janitorial services to hospitals, healthcare facilities, homes, and offices in Southwest Ohio for over 25 years. According to manager Ryan Zemen, stink bugs are one of the nuisances they deal with on a regular basis.
“We’ve got the seasons where they’re more prevalent, but especially when it gets cold and they come inside,” he says. “Typically, they’re usually dead in the corner when we find them. We pay more attention to where they are.”
Sonshine’s cleaning crews use a special vacuum cleaner to dispose of stink bugs once they’re discovered.
“We use a bag-type vacuum that has a Hepa filter that pretty much eliminates the smell,” he says. “We do a lot of university dorm rooms and apartments, and it’s been a big epidemic the last couple of years, but they aren’t as prevalent as bed bugs. We have 82 accounts and we get calls about stink bugs once in a while. We advise our customers that if they see more than one or two, they should call a pest control company.”
Kris Holden is the co-owner of Turf Point, a Dayton company that provides lawn care and pest control services. He points out that the treatments used by pest control companies may deter or contain stink bugs, but there’s no real cure for the problem.
“We offer an exterior pest control where we spray three to five feet up your house and that creates a barrier,” he says. “It’s really more effective on pests like spiders, earwigs, and mosquitoes, but it will repel stink bugs. They can still get into the home pretty easily since they’re a flying bug. If we spray one directly, it will kill them.”
Holden’s company gets numerous calls each year from homeowners who have found a proliferation of stink bugs and want them eliminated. He also offers up a couple of helpful tips to keep them at bay.
“We have a lot of customers that’ll call and ask us about spraying for stink bugs,” he says. “They’ll say ‘We had someone treating our house for stink bugs, but I still have them.’ Our product will reduce them because we’re creating that barrier, but there’s no guarantee. You’ve got to be careful of companies that offer guarantees that they can get rid of stink bugs, because they’re really isn’t one. We suggest that people do an exterior pest control to create a barrier on the lower part of their house. Just make sure your windows are sealed and you have a screen. Many people use plastic seals over their windows in the winter months, and that helps. I would also make sure the garage is proofed well because they’ll come in through the tiniest holes.”
Don’t Look Now, but You Have Company
It appears that there is no cure for this nasty nuisance. Since stink bugs aren’t attracted to poor housekeeping habits, such as those that cultivate ants, cockroaches, and houseflies, the best thing to do is be vigilant and keep your home in good repair. Science has yet to catch up with this unwanted oriental
import and no effective pesticide has been developed to eliminate it. Keep your eyes open and watch where you step.