As autumn’s chill firmly takes hold, if you’re really on your game, you’ve been systematically sealing up your home to protect it from the usual pests that find their way indoors: mice, rats, and the requisite creepy-crawlies.
But there might be one you’re not looking for, and let us warn you—it stinks.
Scientists say Asian stink bugs, which have been worrying farmers and annoying homeowners since they arrived here in the late ’90s, are only continuing to spread across the U.S. And with cooler temps here (or at least on the way), these bugs will quite likely make their way indoors—meaning into your home.
Granted, stink bugs don’t bite. They don’t sting, either. At about a half-inch when they’re fully grown, they’re not big, and they’re not usually even that stinky. (Think cilantro.) Still, no one likes a house guest—human or insect—who crawls in uninvited and refuses to leave.
Here’s what you need to know to get—and keep—stink bugs out of your house.
Stink bugs 101
The Asian stink bug, aka the brown marmorated stink bug, has a nasty habit of piercing the flesh of fruits and vegetables and drawing out their nutrients, thus rendering any produce it touches inedible, explains Jason Everitt, an entomologist at Rottler Pest and Lawn Solutions in St. Louis. Farmers are definitely not fans.
Brown marmorated stink bugs are native to China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, Everitt says, and most likely first hitched a ride to the U.S. in the late 1990s through landscape plants. Now here, they kind of like it. But stink bugs don’t like the cold, which means they need a place to stay over the winter.
“Just like humans, these bugs can be caught trying to find a warm place to hide as the temperatures drop,” Everitt explains. That “allows this nuisance pest to survive our harsh winters. As they gather in your structure, stink bugs release pheromones, letting others know that the structure is safe for winter and causing populations to increase year over year.”
Climate change can also help explain why stink bugs seem to be everywhere nowadays.
“Stink bugs aren’t that particular and can thrive in almost any climate, but when the temperatures are higher than usual, they will bring more than a single generation on an annual basis,” notes Jordan Foster, a pest technician at Fantastic Pest Control in London. “This causes a rapid growth of the population.”
That means that after this year’s particularly hot summer, there are more stink bugs out there—and more of them seeking refuge in your home.
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How stink bugs can make your life miserable
If stink bugs make their way inside your abode, you might not know about them for a long while. Luckily, they won’t damage your belongings. They’re quite considerate guests—but not forever.
“The biggest complaint we hear from our customers is that once spring hits, or even a nice 70-degree day in January, these pests will try to make their way outside and end up lost in your living space,” Everitt says. “Smashing them only causes them to release the pheromone that gives them their name, which could cause an unpleasant odor in your home.”
That odor has often been compared with the smell of a strong herb such as cilantro. That might not sound all that bad, but depending on the species and your olfactory senses, a stink bug could smell even more foul—like skunk spray or rotting fruit.
How to snuff out stink bugs
The best way to avoid this smelly scenario: Prevent stink bugs from crawling into your house in the first place. If you live on a property with lots of trees, you have some yard maintenance ahead of you. Stink bugs gravitate toward wooded properties, Everitt says. From there, they’ll make their way into your home, most likely through your attic or chimney.
“Make sure that all entry points to the home have been sealed,” Everitt says. “This includes holes in screens, tuck pointing around pipe chases, seals around doors and windows, attic vents, and any other openings you can find on the exterior of your home.”
And while it might sound weird, turn off your porch light.
“Stink bugs are attracted to light, so it’ll be best to keep the outside lights off at night,” Foster insists. “Additionally, pull down the window blinds once it gets dark outside and you feel like turning on the lights.”
Controlling stink bugs becomes more of a challenge once they enter your home. But don’t worry, you do have some options. Just make sure not to smash them!
Take them down one by one: See a stink bug here or there? “Grab individual bugs with a piece of toilet paper, then flush them down the toilet quickly,” Foster says. “This way, even if the bug manages to release its stink, it will get absorbed by the paper.”
Set your own traps: If you feel like you’re basically running an Airbnb for stink bugs, mix water with dish soap and pour the mixture into a couple of jars. “Put those jars in the corners of a room to trap and kill stink bugs during the course of a few days,” Foster advises. (Laughing maniacally and rubbing your hands in glee are optional.)
Deploy your vacuum: Going after stink bugs with a vacuum cleaner is the treatment Everitt recommends. Just make sure to empty the vacuum bag or container outside your home. Otherwise, warns Foster, “the stink will be spread around the house the next time you attempt to clean it.”
Spray noxious chemicals: Pesticides on the exterior of your home, especially around entry points, can help in severe cases, Everitt says. Since you’ll need to pay attention to window eaves and thresholds, it might be necessary to talk to a professional, who has the necessary equipment to reach the higher structures, he notes.
The pro will also have the lowdown on how best to apply anti–stink bug chemicals (e.g., right before nighttime temps drop to 50 degrees Fahrenheit or below). Otherwise, stink bugs may have already checked into your warm, toasty home.
Donate your stink bugs to science: Since 1996, pest management teams at Rutgers University’s New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station have been studying stink bugs, part of which involves confirming sightings throughout the U.S.
If you live near Rutgers’ campus in New Brunswick, NJ, simply swing by and drop off live stink bugs at the entomology department. You can also pop a bug or two (dead or alive) into a pill container and mail it in. Not your bug, er, bag? Don’t worry, emailing a stink bug selfie works, too.
Why go to the trouble? More info means entomologists can figure out better ways to control stink bugs—and possibly keep them outside your home.
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