Stink bugs getting worse in Michiana

Stink bugs are invading Michiana. If you haven’t seen one of them yet, consider yourself lucky. They have only been in our area for 4 or 5 years, but they are proving to be a big nuisance.

The Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs come from Asia, and were first found in the U.S. in eastern Pennsylvania around 2000. From there they have spread all along the eastern seaboard, and westward, now inviting themselves into our homes.

Purdue Extension Entomologist Jeff Burbrink tells us why these uninvited house guests are coming in. “They mistakenly look at our homes and think they’re a hollow tree, which is how they overwinter in the wild. And they come in between the walls and stay there over the winter months. A few mistakenly find their way into our living quarters and that’s when most people get upset.”

The bugs are harmless. They don’t bite or sting. But as many of us know from trying to squish them, and as their name suggests, well….they stink.

Jeff tells us that it is a defensive mechanism. The stink bug accumulates an oil in their system and releases it to keep predators away from them. By having a bad taste or smell they are less likely to be attacked by birds or other potential predators.”

So, how do we keep them out of our homes? According to Burbrink, the news is not good: “the bad news is that they are immune to most of the pesticides that are out there on the market. There are a couple of them that will knock them down but they don’t have very long life, and for doing a good job at keeping them coming in to the home, you really can’t count on an insecticide to do that.”

“Because pesticides don’t work that well, we’re left with things like plugging up holes in the house. Also things like plugging holes in screen windows and basically caulking, that sort of thing to keep them from entering the living quarters.”

There is a lot of advice to be found online, but one common suggestion is that soapy water will kill them. You can also vacuum the bugs up, but make sure to empty the bag right away or they will just crawl out and haunt you all over again. (There is a link a the bottom of the story to one of the many pages offering suggestions on dealing with stink bugs).

If it’s not bad enough that these guys are invading our homes, they are also a huge threat to agriculture…corn, soybeans, and all kinds of fruit.

Burbrink explains: “The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug has been a huge pest to deal with on the east coast. As it moves here and builds up its population it will become a bigger pest here in Indiana. This year the first time we have seen any crop damage in the state of Indiana has been here in Elkhart County in a soybean field. We have also found some in some sweet corn fields in the area.
This particular pest, when it feeds, it has a pointy mouthpiece, that’s kind of like a hypodermic needle and it will stick that through the pod or in through the husk of the corn and literally puncture that and then suck the juice out, that’s how it feeds. So, it’s almost like a mosquito, the way it feeds.”

Unfortunately, when it comes to corn, you may not even know it’s happened until you pull back the husk and notice a bunch of popped kernels. Soybeans will exhibit a dark spot on the outside of the pod, and the bean will be shriveled up inside.

With both the nymphs and adults feeding on crops, it could be a big problem in the years to come.

And your backyard garden is at risk, too. I took a spotty tomato from my garden in South Bend for Burbrink to look at:

“These little spots are presumably from the stink bug feeding. They will stick their little proboscis into this tomato and then suck the juice out. That causes an indentation with a little brown spot in the middle of it. If this was a commercial tomato, of course it wouldn’t be saleable. If this is in your back yard it’s ok to eat, there’s nothing wrong with it. But it does make the tomato look less appealing for marketing.”

Just a few days later, I found some tomatoes that looked much worse.

I asked Jeff the big question, if the stink bugs are still new to the area, what can we expect in the future?

“Anytime you get a new pest in an area, the first thing that happens is their population just explodes, and that’s what we’re seeing now, and it will probably continue like this for probably another 4 or 5 years. We’ll see the population peak and as the local, normal insects that we have around here learn how to deal with this pest, the population will begin to die back. But it will probably be 5, 6, maybe 10 years before we see that population actually go backwards.”

Jeff did bring up two positive points: First, since the stink bugs have been around for over a decade on the east coast, the chemical companies have been experimenting with pesticides that will keep them away from our crops, and one is likely to be released in the next year.

Second, he said there have been a few reports of birds starting to feed on them on the east coast, so hopefully our local birds will eventually do the same.

Either way, we’re going to have to get used to these bugs as they will get worse before they get better.

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