If this won’t prepare you for Halloween, I’m not sure what will. Allow me to introduce you to the brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys). Chances are you saw one in your garden over the summer, or in your home during the past month, perhaps in alarmingly large numbers.
I hope this reaches you before you instinctively squash one of them. If you have already done so, you’ve likely gained a healthy respect for the reasoning behind its common name: Crushing the 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch shield-shaped bugs causes them to release a foul, pungent odor you’re not likely to forget.
Originally from Asia, brown marmorated stink bugs are believed to have been accidentally introduced to Pennsylvania in the 1990s. They were first spotted in Maryland in 2003, and reproduced prolifically, destroying crops along the mid-Atlantic coast.
Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, entomologist and senior extension associate for Cornell University’s New York State Integrative Pest Management Program in Babylon, has expressed fear that within a few years, we “could be dealing with large numbers.”
“They’ll eat anything — trees, seeds, holly berries — but they prefer peaches, apples, beans and developing ears of corn, so we’re seeing higher numbers in agricultural areas, including out east, near orchards and crop fields,” she said. Still, “they are generalist feeders, so we won’t see the true impact for a while.”
The good news is that stink bugs don’t bite, cause any structural damage or pose any human health hazard. But like so many other pests, they are seeking shelter indoors now that temperatures are dropping. More unsettling, Gangloff-Kaufmann points out that it is possible that hundreds — even thousands — of them may already be living in your home, under baseboards, in window and door frames and other hiding places without your knowledge; you’d only notice when you run the heat on that first chilly night and they come out to warm up.
Should that happen, your best defense is to vacuum them up, seal the vacuum bag in a plastic bag and then dispose of it in the trash, preferably outside. Pesticides aren’t recommended.
I had my first stink bug a couple of years ago, when one crawled across my TV screen. Fortunately, I recognized it and scooped it up with a tissue, then flushed it without crushing it. Disaster averted.
Whether you’ve seen any or not, Gangloff-Kaufmann recommends repairing holes in screens and sealing gaps around windows and doors. Remove window air conditioners as soon as possible, and cover wall-mounted units. Check the attic eaves from the inside during daylight, when gaps are apparent, she advises, and “check the area under the siding near the sill plate (top of the foundation). Brush away any debris and check for gaps.” They should all be sealed, lest you end up with more tricks than treats in the coming weeks.