Has this ever happened to you: You’re gazing out the window when you spot a creepy brown bug that looks like something from a sci-fi action thriller clinging to your screen. 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 stink bug on your hands.
The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug
The brown marmorated stink bug (Eocanthecona furcellata) or simply “stink bug” 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.
Stink bugs range in size from half an inch to an inch in size, but their most notable characteristic is the one that gives them their name. When stink bugs are frightened, disturbed, or killed by crushing, they emit a pungent odor that some describe as skunk-like. Some say it smells like the foliage of tomato plants.
Stink bugs 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, stink bugs are mostly harmless. They do not cause any structural or other damage and, unlike roaches, ants, and other common household pests, stink bugs 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.
Spring and Fall Pests
Stink bugs emerge in the spring to feed and reproduce. Late July and August are the most common times to see damage to plants. And in the fall, as the weather turns colder, the bugs start invading homes in search of a warm place to spend the winter. Stink bugs typically gather on warm, west-facing walls and enter buildings via cracks and crevices.
But they have been seen at all times of the year, in all regions.
Get Rid of Stink Bugs In Your Home
So what do you do if you encounter a stink bug, and how do you keep them out? Here’s a quick primer:
If you find a stink bug, or a few, in your home, do not panic. They are harmless to humans, structures, and fabrics. Whatever you do, do not crush a stink bug. As its name suggests, a threatened or crushed stinkbug will release an unpleasant, skunky odor. The easiest way to get rid of stink bugs is to vacuum them up. If you have 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 to replace the bag immediately, or clean out a bagless model with vinegar.
Some people like to catch stink bugs and flush them down the toilet. While effective, this method also results in a lot of wasted water if used too frequently.
Keeping Stink Bugs Out
- To keep stink bugs 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.
- Stink bugs are repelled by garlic. Crush a few garlic cloves and put in a dish on a windowsill and at entryways.
Get Rid of Stink Bugs In The Garden
- While stink bugs 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 stink bugs from devouring your garden, you can purchase commercial stink bug traps that will capture adult stink bugs. Planting sunflowers and marigolds will also help by attracting beneficial insects that will eat stink bug 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.
- Stink bugs 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 bugs to kill them.
Is It A Stink Bug? Meet The Lookalikes
Squash bugs and Western Conifer Seed Bugs are often confused with stink bugs. Here’s how to tell them apart. Additionally, many people report getting “bit’ by stink bugs but this is highly unlikely. True marmorated stink bugs’ mouth aren’t designed for biting. The only food source they’re interested in is plant material and nothing related to mammals.
Jaime McLeod is a longtime journalist who has written for a wide variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites, including MTV.com. She enjoys the outdoors, growing and eating organic food, and is interested in all aspects of natural wellness.