Thursday, October 15, 2009

No, Its Not Your Imagination, the Stink Bugs Are Getting Worse

They have a goofy name, and they make a funny smell when bothered, so it is a bit hard to take them seriously. But believe it or not, stink bugs (also known as brown shield bugs) are becoming a major annoyance in many parts of the northeastern US.

The bugs are not particularly dangerous to humans but like the Asian ladybeetles, they are increasingly taking up residence in people's homes in North America. Once inside, they prove difficult to remove because they defend themselves by releasing a potent and very unpleasant smell. Vacuuming them or smashing them can prove to be quite stinky indeed.

The bugs, which are native to Asia, were first reported in North America in the late 1990s. Many accounts online point to initial infestations in the town of Allentown, PA. No one knows for sure how they got to the US.

But lately lots of my neighbors in Silver Spring are asking if I know anything about them. They are suddenly everywhere. They've been showing up on our car windshields each morning. They meander across our window screens. They slowly creep across the front porch. We are trying to make sure they don’t get inside. I sometimes feel like the volunteers each summer at the Brookside Gardens butterfly exhibit, checking each visitor carefully to see if any bugs have come in on their clothes. Not the most hospitable way to greet a guest, for sure. I’m wondering if we can really fight them off.

Researchers at the USDA are apparently wondering that, too. One researcher, Jeffry Aldrich, has begun working on traps which could be used to effectively lure them out of people’s homes. Aldrich is an entomologist and expert on stink bugs at the Invasive Insect Biocontrol and Behavior Laboratory in Beltsville, MD. According to press releases put out by the USDA, he’s working on a weapon to fight the bug invaders that will use the insect’s own body chemistry: a pheromone-based trap.

According to an article published by the USDA, Aldrich was “stunned” at the degree of infestation he saw at a private in Maryland last year, particularly in the attic.

Friends of mine who live in rural Pennsylvania at a location not too far from Allentown, PA where the first infestations were noted a few years back have also had surprisingly awful infestations. One friend says the bugs moved into mattresses in the guest room of her old Victorian home, only to emerge when guests came to stay the night. She also kept finding them in sofa cushions and pillows. Ugh!

This week the stink bugs were also “bug of the week” on Mike Raupp's website, and featured in John Kelly’s column in the Washington Post.

(Photo by Stephen Ausmus, used courtesy of the USDA ARS. )

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