An Unwanted Houseguest: Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs Land in Rockland

BY CHERYL SLAVIN

sfsgThere’s an old saying that fish and unwanted houseguests both start to stink after three days. Now there’s a new kind of unwanted guest arriving at our doors that can start to smell a whole lot sooner—the brown marmorated stink bug.

First officially identified in Allentown, PA in 2001, this invasive species from Asia has since spread to 40 states and Ontario in less than 10 years. Its first documented arrival in the Hudson Valley was in 2008. With few natural enemies to slow its growth and migration, the BSMB, as it is known in local scientific circles, now threatens both cultivated crops throughout the Hudson Valley as well as ornamental plants and trees.

“Marmorated” means “marbled” and Rockland residents have no doubt already spotted these 1/8 to ½ inch shield shaped insects with their distinctive brown mottled markings. So far most of the damage done by these creatures has been to commercial orchard crops, small fruit, vegetables and grapes. However, they have also been known to feast on ornamental trees such as crabapple and cherry as well as vegetables in residential gardens. The worst arboreal damage occurs when a stink bug invasion weakens the tree, leaving it vulnerable to other secondary and often fatal infections such as mold and bacteria.

In the wild, stink bugs “overwinter” in wooded areas. In suburban areas such as Rockland, stink bugs seek winter shelter inside homes and warehouses, their numbers ranging from only a few to a colony that can carpet an attic or basement. They don’t actually cause any structural damage to the house or pose a health threat to the people living inside, but they can be a terrible nuisance and difficult to get rid of.

The best first defense against stink bugs inside the house is to stop them from coming in at all. Inspect all windows, doors, screens and vents to make sure that there are no openings through which the bugs can enter. If discovered inside, do not attempt to kill the bug by crushing it. This will release the noxious odor for which it is named, permeating the house and actually attracting other stink bugs. “They all come out for the funeral,” quips Michael Wilson, a horticulturist with the Rockland Cornell Cooperative Extension in Stony Point. Wilson advises homeowners to scoop solitary invaders up with a napkin or tissue and flush them down the toilet or otherwise drown them. Larger invasions can be vacuumed, especially in the winter when they are dormant. It is advisable to change the vacuum cleaner bag after doing so and dispose of it away from the house. A wet/dry vac can be used against insects outside the house as bugs can be directly suctioned off the trees and drowned inside the machine.

Pest management professionals can also help with the application of pesticides, although so far stink bugs have proven stubbornly resistant to agricultural as well as residential poisons. They have been known to fall motionless after being sprayed, only to revive a day later. Scientists and researchers from the NY State Integrated Pest Management Program of Cornell University, the Hudson Valley Regional Fruit Program of Cornell Cooperative Extension, and Stop BSMB, a consortium of 10 different institutions, have been tracking and studying the brown marmorated stink bug’s progression in order to devise an effective plan of attack. This can include the development of a pesticide specifically geared toward the control of the insect, as well as strategies that include natural predators, crop management and maintenance.

The stink bug population has been growing in Rockland, but so far has not posed as significant a threat as it has in neighboring counties. To help in the battle against the invaders, the Integrated Pest Management Program has a pest identification key on its website, and “citizen scientists” can mail samples or send iphone pictures of suspected stink bugs to the Cornell Cooperative Extension for identification. For further information, go to stopbsmb.org, nysipm.cornell.edu/factsheets/buildings, or hudsonvf.cce.cornell.edu.