Outdoors Columns

Up Moses Creek: You come too

A brown marmorated stinkbug clings to a screen door beside another invasive insect, the Asian lady beetle. Fred Coyle photo. A brown marmorated stinkbug clings to a screen door beside another invasive insect, the Asian lady beetle. Fred Coyle photo.

If happiness can be found in simple things, then Moses Creek is the place to look. And often those things are seasonal, which adds the element of pleasurable anticipation to their arrival. 

Every fall, for instance, Becky and I look forward to seeing stinkbugs again. I don’t mean our retiring native stinkbugs, but the big, in-your-face “brown marmorated” stinkbugs (Halyomorpha halys), an East Asian invasive.

Until about 10 years ago we’d never encountered these insects, although I’d heard they had become a serious pest to fruit and vegetable farmers. And when they first arrived on Moses Creek, we thought they were a plague. We were on the deck enjoying autumn breezes, blue skies and trees showing the first blush of fall when suddenly the air was rived by the buzzes of brown, roach-sized creatures that landed on everything, releasing their trademark smell. Our cat, asleep in a sunny spot, jumped up hissing when one flew into his fur.

I’ve read that in their native land these stinkbugs fly to cliffs and work their way into crevices to overwinter. But up Moses Creek it was the sun-warmed side of our house that drew them, where they found ways to squeeze inside. We and the cat were no longer the only ones looking forward to another seasonal first, the woodstove’s heat.

The stinkbugs did pique my interest. In them nature had created what technology is striving to perfect: little robotic drones programmed with a mission. If I flipped one on its back, it’d spin like a winged machine gone wacky with an electrical short. Then, presto, it would right itself ready to go, a gyroscope inside.

At first we fought back with fly swatters, but the bugs never died without living up to their names. Worse than the stink was the disgusting innards that popped out when I swatted one with too much fervor — to dry like glue on the siding, windows and screens. But most disgusting was when the guts squirted back on me. After wiping off facial splatters a few times, I learned to finesse my swats to kill but not to mash.

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Swatting was also inefficient. Six bugs might be clinging to a window screen, but with the first swat, five would scatter.  

We abandoned fly swatters when Becky discovered that with a postcard she could flick the stinkbugs into a small container then dump them into a waiting bucket of water laced with Dawn. The bugs would kick a few times with their long back legs, then sink. Flick’n Dump was more effective than swatting, and there was no mess. They might be stinkbugs, but Becky killed them clean.  

A couple of years later I noticed that when stinkbugs sensed danger approaching, they would drop straight down from the wall or window and scoot into the nearest crack. Wondering if this drop-and-hide tactic might also be the stinkbug’s Achilles heel, I held a clear plastic cup below one on a window screen, then moved it close. The bug dropped into the cup with a satisfying plunk.

It’s important that it be a clear cup, because stinkbugs can see down through it and think the escape route is open. And even though stinkbugs can easily fly back out, once inside they tend to walk around on the bottom, perplexed.  

With the plastic cup discovery, stink-bugging became a sport. We learned how to place the cup just right then slide it up expeditiously to the target bug. It was like making a hole in one, except that in golf the goal is to putt the ball to the hole, while with stinkbugs you put the hole to the ball.

Now, come September, our plastic cups are at the ready. Autumn would be less pleasing if it didn’t come with falling bugs, along with falling leaves. I admit it’s an acquired taste.

To up the challenge, I wait until several stinkbugs are on a screen, then, starting low, I slide the cup up, feeling plunk after plunk. My best score to date is 6 bugs in 17 seconds. Then into the bucket of Dawn they go.

With apologies to Robert Frost:

I’m going out to clean the window screen;

I’ll only stop to cup-and-dump away

(And wait to watch the water clear, I may);

I won’t be gone long. You come too.

(Burt and Becky Kornegay live in Jackson County.)

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