Stink Bugs on the Rise...Again
Homeowners battle smelly pests waking from winter nap.
A stink bug dropped from the ceiling and landed on Tom Eckert’s desk as he spoke to a visitor in his Gambrills office.
When he tried to scoop it up, it flew to the window to join four others basking against the sun-warmed glass. These smelly little insects have plagued Eckert, owner of Seasonal Changes Lawn & Landscaping, for a while.
“Last year was the first year I noticed them in any significant numbers," he said. "It got so bad in my office I could hardly work out here. Whenever you kill one, you’ll see more.”
The brown marmorated stink bug, an import from Asia, was first identified in Allentown, PA, in 2001, though sightings may date back to 1996, according to the Maryland Department of Agriculture.
The population seemed to explode last year in the mid-Atlantic region. While commercial fruit and vegetable growers reported crop damages from stink bugs last fall, Eckert said they have not yet caused problems with the ornamental plants he uses in landscaping.
“Right now, the stink bugs are more of an issue in my home than in my business,” he said.
The Great Stink Bug Invasion
In concert with the 2010 population explosion, homeowners throughout the region experienced an invasion as the bugs looked for a warm place to spend the winter, snuggled in attics and walls.
“The stink bugs never completely went away in my area,” said Kimberly McDonald of Clarksburg. ”We had them in our home all winter. I've even added their elimination to my prayer list."
“I was in my attic last month and found a group of about 20 tucked in a small space under the eaves,” said Kristen Kasprow of Annapolis. “I thought they were dead but when I disturbed one it began to move.”
As temperatures rise, the well-rested bugs have headed outdoors.
“We’re definitely going to see more activity,” said Stanton Gill, an entomologist and University of Maryland Extension Specialist. “They’ll be everywhere.”
The University of Maryland’s Home and Garden Information Center assured homeowners that stink bugs are not harmful to people or houses. However, Francine Rattner of South Arundel Veterinary Clinic in Edgewater cautioned that stink bugs can be harmful to pets.
Protecting Pets from Stink Bugs
Rattner said she has seen cases of gastritis in cats that she believes were caused by a stink bug snack. Gastritis, the inflammation of the stomach lining, presents similar symptoms in pets and humans—vomiting and loss of appetite.
It is treated with medication and fluids to rehydrate.
“The secretions the stink bug emit are not poisonous, but they are noxious enough to cause pretty severe gastrointestinal problems if your pet chews or swallows one,” Rattner said.
Homeowners should remove bugs as soon as they appear to keep curious pets from playing with and possibly ingesting them, she said.
What is the best method for stinkbug elimination?
Gill, who is part of a team conducting stink bug studies for the USDA, has one message for beleaguered homeowners: “Don’t spray ridiculous insecticides. There’s nothing on the market now that really works.”
The lack of an effective pesticide has led to a plethora of traps and lures on the market. An AOL web search for “stink bug traps” pulls more than 16,000 responses.
Many advertise a pheromone lure, but Gill said while researchers are working on a sex lure, there are none currently available on the commercial market.
Stink Bug Homemade Remedy
In the meantime, homeowners are coming up with their own remedies. Eckert recommended spraying the bug with a mixture of soap and hot water, a practice he discovered in an online search.
Kasprow collected stink bugs in a container of warm soapy water and flushes them down the toilet.
“If you don’t put soap in the water, they will crawl right back out,” Kasprow said. “This works for me because I don’t have to squish them so they don’t smell.”
Until researchers discover a safe, effective way to control the stink bug population, Gill favors a cautious approach.
“My worry is that homeowners will do wild stuff in fighting this,” Gill said. “This is a pest that has risen up, but we will figure it out.”