The harmless insects less than the size of a dime get their name from scent glands under their wings and abdomen. When disturbed, they can release a smell that some call musty, others say is burnt almonds - a protection from predators. The smell spreads when their wings move.
"I don't even want to be in the backyard," said Maureen Mulvena of Bear, Del.
The other night, Mulvena thought her husband was burning something in the kitchen. But that wasn't the case. The smell - almost like an electrical fire - was so intense the couple crawled around on the floor trying to figure out if something was burning inside the walls.
And then, they found it. A dead stink bug, fried on top of a halogen light bulb.
The University of Delaware Cooperative Extension Service in Newark has received dozens of calls from homeowners seeking advice about what to do to combat the bugs.
"Seal up any cracks," said Katy O'Connell, a spokeswoman for the university's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
The other recommendation is to use screening to cover vents and other openings where the bugs can crawl inside.
O'Connell said they don't recommend pesticides because the chemicals don't last long enough to be effective.
The bugs invade houses this time of year because they are looking for a spot to hide with winter approaching.
For many people, they are bothersome because they are everywhere, lurking behind curtains, under barbecue grill covers and even gathering in corners of rooms.
For farmers, stink bugs can be a problem on fruit and vegetable crops. O'Connell said that in recent years they have been causing increased agricultural damage.
In Virginia, cooperative extension agents produced a pocket handbook of stink bugs for farmers in the fruit and vegetable business to identify the pests.
This season's stink bug invasion isn't likely from a native species.
And here's the creepy part: The ones you see probably aren't the only ones in your house.
Inspectors at Western Pest Service here look for plants that the insects might be feeding on and search for and seal cracks and openings in homes.
Among the entry points are small cracks in window sashes and the area around garage doors, said Todd Buckman, branch manager at Western Pest here.
The technicians also remove all the dead and live stink bugs and develop a plan. Then, they schedule two more visits to follow the bugs through their life cycle, Buckman said. The company uses a variety of pesticides - depending on where the bugs are - to control them.
The bugs could be nestled into attic vents, snuggled into the accordion pleats of window air conditioners or resting in just about any nook or cranny, said E. Richard Hoebeke, a senior extension associate in entomology at Cornell University in New York.
This variety of stink bug is an invasive species - a native of China, Korea and Japan. It's not the plants in your yard or your housekeeping skills that attract them or keep them at bay.
In its native habitat, this stink bug would be looking for rocks and crevices to settle into for the winter. But similar habitat isn't available here, so they go for the nooks and crannies in homes and business.
These non-native stink bugs don't bite, but they could prick you with their mouth parts.
Back in 2001, Hoebeke was sent a sample of some unusual stink bugs collected in Allentown, Pa. He compared the specimens with the insect collection at Cornell and came upon a match.
By that time, the bug - which researchers believe probably arrived in Allentown in shipping materials - had probably been living and reproducing for about four years.
Since the 2001 identification, the insect has spread from Pennsylvania to Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia and West Virginia. It is also common in Oregon.
Hoebeke said they really don't want a place to be warm. What they want is a cool spot that isn't exposed to wind, rain and snow -a place like an attic. The ones that come inside will eventually die because their metabolism won't slow down enough for them to make it through winter.
The ones that find cooler shelter will slow down their systems, survive through winter and reproduce the following spring.
"This is one of those oddball insects. It seeks shelter," Roger W. Fuester, a collaborator entomologist at the USDA's Beneficial Insects Introduction Research Unit in Newark, Del., said in an earlier interview.
Fuester said the biggest problem now is that they are a people pest.
"They are unpleasant, and they give off a disagreeable odor," he said.
Keeping stink bugs at bay
- Seal cracks around windows, doors, siding, utility pipes, behind chimneys and other openings.
- Try to find the openings where they got in if they're already inside. Typically, stink bugs will emerge from cracks under or behind baseboards, around window and door trim, and around exhaust fans or lights in ceilings. Seal these openings.
- Vacuum them up - gently - and dispose of the bag in an outdoor trash can. If many are squashed, their odor will be released and the vacuum cleaner may smell.
- Use extreme heat or cold, such as putting the bagged
- Resist the urge to smash them.
- Refrain from using insecticides, especially any pesticides intended only for outdoors use.
- Skip the aerosol foggers. They will not prevent more insects from emerging, and if used incorrectly, can cause illness in people and pets.
Sources: Maryland Department of Agriculture, University of Maryland, Penn State University
By MOLLY MURRAY
The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal
Gannett Content One/USAToday.com