Stinky insect plagues homes

MARIETTA – Humans aren’t the only species to head outside when spring returns to the Mid-Ohio Valley. Those pesky brown marmorated stink bugs that have spent the winter inside area homes and other buildings are anxious to get out of the house, too. And the pests are apparently here to stay.

It sounds like a bad joke, but dozens of the stink bugs have been flitting around the main building at Marietta’s wastewater treatment plant recently.

“They’ve been here for years, and we occasionally see them during the winter months, but we tend to see a lot more in the spring,” said wastewater superintendent Steve Elliott.

He said the bugs have been pretty bad over the last couple of weeks, and there seem to be more every year.

“We do see them in the fall, too,” Elliott said. “Usually we just squash them and go on about our business.”

Susan Jones, an associate professor of entomology with Ohio State University, said the pattern of seeing the insects in spring and fall described by Elliott is typical of the invasive brown marmorated stink bug.

“They overwinter in homes and are now trying to escape back into the outdoors,” she said. “And in the fall the adult bugs are trying to get inside to spend the winter in a secluded, sheltered space. But they don’t breed indoors.”

Jones said native stink bugs generally do not spend the cold months of the year in houses, but the brown marmorated species, native to Asia, seems to specifically target homes and warm buildings for their winter quarters.

The brown marmorated bugs, which were first discovered in Ohio about six years ago, are of some concern to the state’s agricultural community as they can be highly damaging to ornamental and fruit trees, as well as to other crops, including soybeans.

Jones said her discovery of a brown marmorated stink bug at her home generated the first report that the pest had invaded Ohio.

“As an entomologist I collect many insects and keep them in a freezer at home,” she said. “I found one of the stink bugs in the house back in 2007, and that’s how we first discovered they were now in the state.”

The Asian bug’s invasion into the U.S. has been traced to Allentown, Pa., where the brown marmorated stink bug was first seen in 2001. From there they have since spread to the south and west.

“They’re here to stay, and their range is expanding,” Jones said.

She said the marmorated stink bug can be easily identified by visible white and black bands on its antennae.

Because of the threat to trees and plants, people who encounter the brown marmorated stink bug in their homes are advised to get rid of the pests before they can move outdoors.

“You can capture them in a tissue and freeze them in a freezer or flush them down the toilet,” Jones said. “They can be swept up with a vacuum – or just crush them,” Jones said.

She noted the offensive odor the bugs are known for giving off when they’re crushed or disturbed is not so repugnant in the springtime, adding that may be due to a lessening of the bugs’ odor-producing material as their energy is used up in order to survive the winter.

The best way to keep the brown marmorated stink bug out of a house is to seal up any small openings or crevices through which the flattened bugs can enter. Using insecticides indoors is not recommended as the poison can be harmful to pets and humans, and it does little to eradicate the stink bugs anyway.

Jones said if pesticides are used, they can be sprayed around the exterior of a home before the insects begin to enter buildings in the fall.

Stink bugs do not bite and are not harmful to humans or animals.

Jones added that a noticeable decrease in the number of ladybugs being seen in and around homes this year is not related to the stink bug invasion. She said the prevalence of ladybugs from year to year is related to weather conditions and will vary from one year to the next.