At first it was lady bugs – or more properly, Lady Bird Beetles. Not the American Ladybugs: they are beneficial in the garden and noninvasive, we loved them. But the Asian Ladybugs imported by the forestry department to control their Hemlock Borer infestation became a real nuisance: they forced out the American Ladybugs and preferred to over-winter in our home with us. The American Ladybugs were never so rude as to move in en masse uninvited.
This year there has been a distinct lack of Ladybugs of any nation. Japanese Beetles were bad and I put out traps in an effort to control them, but they still decimated my bean plants.
As fall set in and we braced for the Ladybug war, they have not appeared. But an even more heinous cousin did; the Stink Bug. There are thousands of them in our yard, hundreds crawling on our home; including our porch, and dozens of the odiferous insects in our home.
Where Did They Come From?
It seems these nasty fellows hitched a ride here from Asia (where else), probably in some packing crates. They were first collected in September 1998 in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Since then these pests have spread north into Maine and south into Florida, and are now moving west across the entire country. In the past, there have been one generation annually, but recent mild winters and warm springs enable additional generations to reproduce, increasing the population everywhere.
Are Stink Bugs Dangerous?
While most any insect can “bite” to defend itself when threatened, Stink Bugs rarely do so and carry no stinger or venom. Their mouth parts are made for sucking the juices from succulent plants and have no interest in animal life – unless they feel they are being attacked and must defend themselves. If one does bite you, you may experience a small blister or rash that itches, but the effect is not long-lasting and is not dangerous.
They can be a terrible nuisance in your home, though. They sound like small helicopters as they fly around the room, are large and heavy enough to startle you if they bump into you, they smell bad, and having large smelly bugs crawling around on your windows and ceiling or buzzing in your light fixtures is just creepy.
Outdoors they can inflict serious damage on your garden, flowers and trees. Their favorites are birch, serviceberry, catalpa, butterfly bush, pecan, redbud, hackberry, pepper, dogwood, citrus fruit, cucumber, tomato, sunflower, apple, pear, plum, and grape. They cause damage to the plants by creating necrotic areas on the surface of fruits, injuring seeds, and transferring plant-pathogens.
What Can You Do About Them?
You can hand pick the bugs first thing in the morning while its cool and they are slow-moving. Place them in a bag for disposal. Try not to crush them. You might want to wear disposable rubber gloves. This works well for gardeners, farmers are having a devil of a time controlling Stink Bugs and the damage they do to crops.
For your home, the best defense is a strong … well … defense. Seal up cracks around windows, repair torn screens, adjust your doors or add seal strips, install screens or covers on chimneys and vent pipes. In short, do everything you can to keep them outside.
Once in your home, large numbers can be sucked up with a vacuum cleaner. Be sure to dispose of them immediately because they will usually survive the process and escape again. Also: open a few windows, this exciting air ride may make them feel threatened so they release their pungent scents.
Most flying insect sprays will also work on Stink Bugs, but you have to spray it directly on the bugs. Using spray poisons will leave behind residue on your fruits/vegetables and in places where it might affect your pets or children.
Many people claim that a spray bottle of water with Dawn dishwashing detergent (3/4 cup Dawn to 32 ounces hot water) is just as effective as the poisons when sprayed directly onto the bugs and can be used as a deterrent when sprayed around windows and doors. This needs to be reapplied periodically, especially after a rain, but it has less of a tendency to stain shades and curtains or to poison your pets and the garden foodstuffs you will eat.
The Pennsylvania State University Entomology Department offers the following warning about using dusting powders or foggers to eliminate a Stink Bug infestation:
“It is not advisable to use an insecticide inside after the insects have gained access to the wall voids or attic areas. Although insecticidal dust treatments to these voids may kill hundreds of bugs, there is the possibility that carpet beetles will feed on the dead Stink Bugs and subsequently attack woolens, stored dry goods or other natural products in the home. Although aerosol-type pyrethrum foggers will kill Stink Bugs that have amassed on ceilings and walls in living areas, it will not prevent more of the insects from emerging shortly after the room is aerated. For this reason use of these materials is not considered a good solution to long-term management of the problem. Spray insecticides, directed into cracks and crevices, will not prevent the bugs from emerging and is not a viable or recommended treatment.”
An electronic insect killer (bug-zapper), however, when hung in the attic of an infested home does prove to be an effective means of removing uninvited, over-winter, Stink Bug guests. Just clean out the catch tray frequently.
Have you been affected by this latest Asian Invasion? If so, what have you tried, and has it worked?
Since writing this article (I try to keep ahead of things) we have had our first frost, and there has been a changing of the guard. The stink bugs are now almost entirely gone and they’ve been replaced with swarms of lady bugs. That first frost is always a signal to them that it’s time to find a place to hole up for the winter – and our home looks pretty comfy to them.
It’s odd how many have suddenly appeared when they have been conspicuously absent all summer long. I saw very few in the garden.
Reports are coming out around our region that a new pest is invading: kudzu bugs: they look like lady bugs but are dark gray or black, and they are even more invasive than the lady bugs. So far we’ve not seen them here, but the Knoxville newscasters say that city (about 40 miles away) is awash with the things.
I’m arming myself with a spray bottle of soapy water to spritz around our door and windows to keep them out of our home.