Archived Mountain Voices

The smelly truth about stink bugs

mtn voicesWell, I knew it would happen sooner or later. Our house has been invaded by a herd of pygmy rhinoceroses, which is the plural form (I just discovered) of rhinoceros.

Actually, they aren’t pygmy rhinoceroses. They just look like pygmy rhinoceroses. They’re brown marmorated stink bugs, aka Halyomorpha halys in entomological circles. 

I had to look up marmorated, too. It means having a marbled or streaked appearance, which I suppose refers to the markings around the outer edge of its body. 

The brown marmorated stink bug is an agricultural pest, with approximately 100 crops worth $21 billion susceptible to damage. They feed on apricots, pears, cherries, corn, grapes, lima beans, peaches, peppers, tomatoes and soybeans. 

The U.S. Apple Association estimates that in 2010 alone, the bug accounted for $37 million lost from apple orchards in the Mid-Atlantic region. 

North Carolina crops that are susceptible to the insect include vegetables, fruits, nuts, berries, corn and soybeans, which together are worth approximately $191 million annually in farm cash receipts. 

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To obtain their food, stink bugs use their stylets to pierce the plant tissue in order to extract the plant fluids. In doing so the plant loses necessary fluids, which can lead to deformation of seeds, destruction of seeds, destruction of fruiting structures, delayed plant maturation and increased vulnerability to harmful pathogens.

While harvesting plants the stink bug injects saliva, creating a dimpling of the fruit surface and rotting of the material underneath. The most common signs of stink bug damage are pitting and scarring of the fruit, leaf destruction and a mealy texture to the harvested fruits and vegetables.

The critter was introduced into Pennsylvania in the U.S. in the 1990s from China and Japan, where it is native. By 2009 stinkbugs had reached North Carolina. 

They started appearing in the office at my house a couple of years ago. If I stay up late at night working on something, the light attracts them and they emerge along with a hoard of ladybugs. 

Ladybugs are sort of cute. But there’s not much about a brown marmorated stink bug that’s cute. About the size of a quarter, it has a snout emerging from a concave face. 

When aggravated it emits a foul odor reminiscent of a waste disposal area or rotten eggs. The bug survives the winter as an adult by entering houses and structures in the fall. Twenty-six thousand stink bugs were found overwintering in one house. Once inside they will go into a state of hibernation, waiting for winter to pass. 

But the warmth and light inside the house causes them to come out of hiding and either fly clumsily around light fixtures or land on my computer screen. What the world needs is a homemade, inexpensive brown marmorated stink bug trap. And sure enough, a search turns up a variety of traps, including “The Best Little Stink Trap Ever”:   

 (George Ellison is a naturalist and writer. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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