A noxious import from Asia

Published 8:29 pm Tuesday, February 2, 2016

By Susan and Biff Andrews

We recently discussed murmurations of starlings and the mess they create. Today we chastise Mother Nature for the brown marmorated species of stink bug, “halyomorpha halys.”

While murmurations of starlings were intentionally introduced to the United States in the 1890s, the brown marmorated stink bug came to us in packing material in 1998 from China, Japan or Korea. Since then, it has spread to 41 states.

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They are brown in color, shield shaped, and about ¾ of an inch long. When threatened or crushed, they exude a foul smell that has been compared to rotting cilantro.

They don’t bite. They eat nothing in your home. So for the average homeowner, they are merely an unattractive nuisance. As many are found dead as alive around the house.

Stink bugs normally live in the tree canopy. They are especially fond of black locust, maple, ash, catalpa and tree of heaven (another notorious Asian invasive).

In late summer and early fall, they seek a warm, dry place to spend the winter. Your attic, your siding and your crawl space are preferred sites for these pesky little stowaways. If they find a way in, they are yours until spring.

In March or April they wake up and want out. You will find them near windows and doors and vents. They are fond of warm temperatures, so in a nice long (record) warm summer they may produce two or three generations of young — around 30 at each egg-laying. The first year Virginia was inundated with these pests was 2010, and recent warm years aren’t helping.

For most folks we know, stink bugs are a minor annoyance — perhaps one per week encountered. For less tightly sealed older homes, infestations can be a problem.

To dispatch them in numbers, fill a disposable turkey-roasting pan with some water and some dish detergent, and then shine a light, such as a desk lamp, on it. This Virginia Tech-devised method of eliminating them uses no pesticides and is highly effective.

While stink bugs are a mere annoyance to homeowners, they are a real problem for agricultural interests. They favor fruits (apples, peaches, grapes) and vegetables (corn, soybeans, cotton), which makes them a major problem to local farmers.

There are enough pesticides being used already. Luckily, stink bugs in large fields seem only to infest the 50 feet or so around the borders, so treating only that area is effective.

Still it is estimated that they cost apple farmers $27 million in Virginia a year or two ago.

Murmurations of starlings from Europe, brown marmorated stink bugs from Asia… Yikes! Can’t we just live in peace on our own continent?

A global economy certainly has its pros and some stinky unintended cons(equences).

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at b.andrews22@live.com.