Mixing it up among Common 10 lists, as promised (but with an unexpected, fun segue), we’re going from yesterday’s stinky skunks to the species I blindly pulled from the Common 10 prompt box today: stink bugs.
Stink bugs have made their way onto the Common !0 Insects list for the New River Valley, and most of us wish they hadn’t.
The brown marmorated stink bug – A.K.A. the BMSB – (Halyomorpha halys) is an invader from Asia. Accidentally brought here in the mid 1990s, the BMSB population has exploded because this area’s climate and ecology are remarkably similar to east Asia (many of our non-native, invasive species come from Asia, e.g. the hemlock woolly adelgid, emerald ash borer beetle, Japanese honeysuckle, kudzu vine, tree of heaven, and many, many more) and because none of the BSMB’s natural predators live here.
They gather on warm, sun drenched exterior walls in autumn by the dozens or hundreds, and as temperatures drop, they find little nooks and crannies through which to work their way inside walls or even into a home’s interior. They will spend all winter in these warm refuges. I have had neighbors and friends complain of finding hundreds loitering around sunny windows.
And did I mention that they stink? You know s species really smells bad when they put stink right there in the name.
Everyone has a different level of sensitivity to the BSMB’s smell. They don’t bother me much as long as they’re out of doors and unmolested, but I’ve never had them gather inside my house, so I may be being unrealistically generous about it.
The stink they emit is actually a chemical compound used for self defense. They emit this vile compound from holes in their abdomen in order to make themselves smell highly unappetizing to any would-be predators.
When poked or, heaven help us, squished, they release a load of this foul chemical brew and the stench could knock a buzzard off an outhouse.
I experienced this rank odor in full during Master Naturalist training. We were learning about insects (3 bodyparts, 6 legs, antennae, wings, exoskeleton) in an entomology lab at Virginia Tech and one of the already certified naturalists brought dead stink bugs in for us to explore and dissect. (I’m only now realizing that this may have been hazing. Cheeky!)
Thirty trainees picking apart stink bugs under macro scope for at least a half hour. Thank goodness the lab door was left open (small mercies) or I’m certain that I would have a) vomitted or b) passed out.
If you’re visited by unwanted stink bugs in your home this winter, I suggest removing them by sucking them into a handheld vacuum or one with a hose. Then, either throw the bag away immediately inside of a sealed trash bag or, if it’s bagless, dump the contents of the vacuum’s plastic container into a plastic grocery bag that you can knot up tight or completely seal before putting it in the outside garbage bin. Releasing unconstrained BMSBs outdoors gives them an opportunity to find their way back inside – a challenge they’ll meet with ease.
Do I feel bad about advising the mass slaughter of these invaders? A little, but they don’t belong here and they’re throwing our native species off balance. (Here’s a guide to telling the BSMB apart from its native look-alike bugs.) The only good thing you can say about them, in fact, is that at least they don’t sting or bite. They’re a real pest in orchards though, destroying fruit by the acre.
So, for the sake of the fruit and to save all our noses, go get your vacuum and suck the little stinkers up!