Consider the Stink Bug
Last winter, you probably had some unwelcome houseguests. No, not your in-laws. Stink bugs.
Maybe it was your basement, garage, or a dark corner of the living room. But chances are, stink bugs made their way into your house sometime during mid-September to October, and cozied up (in a dormant state, called diapause) until spring, when they headed back into the wild with nary a thank you for your hospitality.
Now, as the smelly critters are finding homes for the winter, we figured it was a good time to check in with Greg Krawczyk, an entomologist at the Penn State Fruit Research and Extension Center, to learn more about the plight of the humble stink bug.
First thing’s first: What’s with the stink?
Brown marmorated stink bugs, the ones we commonly see, release a smelly substance when they are disturbed or feel threatened. Most people will smell it, and a very small portion of population can actually develop a rash if they come into contact with it. But for most people, it doesn’t create problems. If you don’t disturb stink bugs, they won’t release a smell. Obviously if you smash them, they smell. But it’s not a persistent odor.
Why are people talking about stink bugs now?
This is the time of year they come into houses. In the spring and summer, farmers are dealing with them; they are feeding on crops and doing damage. But then in mid-September, the change in the daylight triggers an overwintering mechanism, and stink bugs start looking for a safe place to survive winter. They love attics, basements, piles of old papers or clothes, dark spaces behind books on a shelf. When they are in houses, they are not there to feed or fly; they’re there to nap for the winter. They will wake up in the spring, when it’s warm enough, usually in April or May.
Now that it’s late October, have most stink bugs already secured their winter accommodations?
Yes. If people have seen few of them outside their houses in the past month or so, then chances are very good that there are diapausing stink bugs somewhere in their house right now. But if we don’t disturb those areas, we’ll see them again in the spring—those same exact insects.
They spend the winter with you? How creepy.
Why is that creepy? You don’t have to feed them, and they don’t multiply or spread disease. They just want to find a cozy place to nap for a few months. That’s how they survive.
Can you prevent them from getting cozy in your home?
Well, you have to realize that they’re not usually drawn to our living areas. There’s too much motion, and the lights go on and off. They like dark, undisturbed places, where most people won’t ever realize they are there.
So stink bugs probably won’t want to spend the winter under your bed or in your underwear drawer?
No, they’d be disturbed too easily. Not good environments for them.
Mary Murphy, associate editor