Has this ever happened to you: You’re cleaning up around your house when you spot a massive brown bug that looks like something from a sci-fi action thriller. If the critter in question has a broad, shield-shaped body with stripes around the edges and on the antennae, long legs, and a comparatively tiny head, you may have a stinkbug on your hands.
The brown marmorated stinkbug, or simply stinkbug for short, is an invasive pest that is native to China. It was first discovered in the United States in the late 1990s, in the state of Pennsylvania. Stinkbugs have since spread to 40 states, as well as parts of Canada, though they are still most plentiful in the Mid-Atlantic region, including Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware.
Stinkbugs range in size from half an in to an inch in size, but their most notable characteristic is the one that gives them their name. When stinkbugs are frightened, disturbed, or killed by crushing, they emit a pungent odor that some describe as skunk-like.
Stinkbugs are becoming an increasingly problematic agricultural pest — the herbivorous insects inject their sharp, pointy mouths into fruit and other crops, leaving behind rotted areas that make them unviable for sale as fresh produce.
To the average homeowner, though, stinkbugs are mostly harmless. They do not cause any structural or other damage and, unlike roaches, ants, and other common household pests, stinkbugs are solitary creatures and do not travel in colonies. While you may find a group of stinkbugs together in a garden, these are simply individuals drawn to the same food source.
Stinkbugs emerge in the spring to feed and reproduce. As the weather turns colder, the bugs start invading homes in search of a warm place to spend the winter. Late July and August are the most common times to see damage on plants. But they have been seen at all times of the year, in all regions.
So what do you do if you encounter a stinkbug, and how do you keep them out? Here’s a quick primer:
In Your Home
If you find a stinkbug, or a few, in your home, do not panic. Stinkbugs are harmless to humans, structures, and fabrics. Whatever you do, do not crush a stinkbug. As its name suggests, a threatened or crushed stinkbug will release an unpleasant, skunky odor. The easiest way to get rid of stinkbugs is to vacuum them up. If you have a a Shop-Vac or a little-used spare vacuum you keep in a garage, use it to prevent the smell from infiltrating your home. Be sure replace the bag immediately, or clean out a bagless model with vinegar.
Some people like to catch stinkbugs and flush them down the toilet. While effective, this method also results in a lot of wasted water if used too frequently.
Keeping Them Out
- To keep stinkbugs from invading your home in the first place, make sure everything is sealed up well. Fill in cracks around windows, doors, siding, utility pipes, chimneys, and underneath fascia with good quality silicone or silicone-latex caulk. Repair or replace damaged screens on doors and windows.
- Sprinkle food-grade diatomaceous earth both inside and outside, targeting areas where they may be getting in (windows, doorways). It acts as a natural, abrasive barrier to crawling insects and is harmless to humans and pets.
- Stinkbugs are repelled by garlic. Crush a few garlic cloves and put in a dish on a windowsill and at entryways.
In The Garden
- While stinkbugs pose no real threat to homeowners, they can be incredibly destructive pests for farmers and gardeners. They feed on a wide range of tree fruits and seed pods as well as many vegetables including tomatoes, peppers, beans, and sweet corn.
- To keep stinkbugs from devouring your garden, you can purchase commercial stinkbug traps that will capture adult stinkbugs. Planting sunflowers and marigolds will also help by attracting beneficial insects that will eat stinkbug eggs and larva.
- Sprinkle food-grade diatomaceous earth beneath growing watermelon, cantaloupe, squash and all fruits and vegetables resting on the ground, as well as on plant leaves.
- Stinkbugs also dislike the smell of mint. Consider planting it in your garden, or crushing a few leaves and scattering them around the base of other plants.
- While the above remedies are deterrents, you can also make a solution of mild soapy water with dish soap, and spray directly on the stink bugs to kill them.