Typically the questions I field from friends and family throughout the spring and summer months tend toward: “What kind of tree is that?” “Can I plant this in the shade?” and “Do I really have to water this every day?” (Yes, mom, you do.)
But for the past few weeks, everyone has been asking the same question, with the same frustration. “What ARE those little brown bugs, and why are they everywhere?!” Those brown, speckled, shield-shaped bugs that seem to cling to every door, window and wall are Halyomorpha halys, or more commonly known as brown marmorated stink bugs.
The brown marmorated stink bug, native to Asia, was first discovered on this continent in the late 1990s and has since been sighted across the United States in large numbers. The bugs feed on a wide variety of plants, fruits and vegetables, leaving at times considerable agricultural damage in their wake. And as their name would suggest, they don’t smell good. When stink bugs perceive an attack is imminent, they emit an unpleasant odor through abdominal glands reminiscent of skunk or rotting fruit to ward off predators.
In the fall, when temperatures start to dip, stink bugs look around for dark, cozy, protected places to ride out the winter months. The good news is, these non-biting insects are harmless to people, pets and property, and they’re not looking to nest or lay their eggs in your home. Should they survive the winter indoors, they will find their way out again come spring to lay eggs outside.
The bad news is, they sometimes get in any way they can, and at times intrude in such large numbers that efforts to eradicate them seem overwhelming. If you have an indoor stink bug infestation, sweep them into a bucket of soapy water, if possible, where they will drown, or vacuum them up with a Shop-Vac. A regular vacuum cleaner can be used as well, but the smell may linger for weeks.
Seal up any holes in window screens or gaps around air conditioning units, as well as cracks around doors, windows, siding and behind chimneys. Screens can be used to block the bugs’ access to dryer and attic vents. As the weather cools, the bugs tend to congregate on the south and west sides of buildings, so keep an eye on those spaces in particular.
Even with these precautions, it’s likely that a few will find their way inside, but taking some preventive measures will help. And if you miss a few, well, at least they’re not mosquitos.
Sarah Marcheschi is a University of Illinois Extension master gardener for Kane County. The “Learning to Grow” column runs weekly during warmer months of the year. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166 for more information. Feedback on this column can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.