With Thursday marking the first day of autumn, Mother Nature has began sending messages to all of her charges that, once again, it is time to prepare for Winter; Tree leaves are beginning to change color, flocks of geese are beginning to head south, and millions of stink bugs are attempting to invade your home to avoid the increasingly colder temperatures.
Everyone has them these days; Stink bugs and stink bug stories that is. The smelly, ugly and annoying pests, formally known as the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB), are massing around doors and windows in Clarke County because, well, that’s what stink bugs do in the fall.
“When the weather turns cool each fall, the bugs look for wintering sites and make their way into houses and buildings,” according to USDA Entomologist Jeffrey Aldrich. “They don’t harm humans, but if they’re squashed or pulled into a vacuum cleaner, they emit an unpleasant odor.”
“Emit an unpleasant odor”?! Really? How about “They STINK!”
As many Clarke County residents this week will attest, BMSB’s have suddenly become a huge nuisance both indoors and out. The bugs have begun to collect against the outside of houses over the past few warm fall days in search of protected, over-wintering sites. And, as if this autumnal appearance isn’t enough, BMSB’s occasionally reappear during warm, sunny periods throughout the winter before re-emerging in spring.
BMSB’s were accidentally introduced into eastern Pennsylvania sometime in the 1990’s. It was first collected in September, 1998 in Allentown. By 2010, Halyomorpha halys had recorded in California, Delaware, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington, D.C., West Virginia, and of course, Clarke County, Virginia.
And their range and destruction is continuing to spread.
“Crops that can be particularly hard hit include tree fruit, peppers, tomatoes, and sweet corn” according to Tom Kuhar, Virginia Tech Entomologist. “Nymphs of this exotic pest were feeding on yellow squash in our research plots in Painter, Virginia. As far as I know, this is the first documented occurrence of BMSB on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.”
So far the major problem caused by BMSB’s is home infestation and personal irritation to people. The big, slow-flying bugs are just plain creepy. As the nights in Clarke County have become cooler the bugs have begun to mass by the thousands in search of a cozy place to spend the Winter.
Ask just about anyone these days and it seems that you’ll get a stink bug story.
One Clarke County family returned home this week after several days away only to notice that a screen-less window had been left slightly open. Upon entering the home they found the walls literally covered with stink bugs. The home’s owner reported spending several hours with a Shop-Vac attempting to remove the smelly pests.
Another area resident has resorted to flicking the BMSB’s into a jar filled with water and bleach as an effective method for collecting bugs that have gotten into her house. The bleach solution is used not so much to kill the bugs but, rather, to mask the horrendous odor that the BMSB releases whenever it is the slightest bit agitated.
But there must be something (please, ANYTHING) that can be done to deal with the bugs, right?
Well, truth be told, not so much.
For many American’s, the first reaction to the sight of a bug indoors is to reach for a pesticide. The most popular professional product for BMSB control is Talstar Pro. However, a quick trip to the Berryville Feed Supply Store on Thursday afternoon revealed that the local supply of Talstar is selling so quickly that customers are being asked to purchase the product in advance of shipments arriving at the store.
Berryville’s Talstar shortage may have a silver lining. Many experts say that it is not advisable to use an insecticide inside after the BMSB’s have gained access to the wall voids or attic areas of a home. Although applying insecticides to voids and crevices may kill hundreds of bugs, there is the possibility that carpet beetles will feed on the dead BMSB’s and later attack woolens, stored dry goods or other natural products in the home. Additionally, insecticides sprayed into cracks and crevices will not prevent the bugs from emerging.
The real key to dealing with BMSB’s is “exclusion” more than “extermination”. If tons of bugs are entering your home, the most effective solution is to locate the openings where the insects are gaining access. Often, stink bugs emerge from cracks behind baseboards, around windows and door trim, or from around exhaust fans or ceiling lights. Sealing the access points with caulk will prevent the bugs from crawling out and into your living space.
Once your living space is invaded, both live and dead BMSB’s bugs can be removed with a vacuum cleaner – however beware – the vacuum cleaner, as well as the air from its exhaust, will smell of stink bug stink for a period of time.
One last tip that may be the cruelest blow of all; Stink bugs are attracted to light. That means that nighttime lighting, both inside and outside, makes your home look warm and inviting to both you and every stink bug in your neighborhood. But if installing WWII-style blackout shutters feels like it may be going just a little too far, pulling your shades and turning off outside lights will help.
But, as we all know, all of this stinks anyway.