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Marmorated stink bugs smell like... cilantro?

Photo from Wiki Commons by David R. Lance, USDA APHIS PPQ

This recent invader is both malodorous and voracious.  That is, smelly and hungry. You may first hear it lightly clattering as it clumsily bounces off a light shade, then the wall and perhaps a book case before it finally alights on a table. When you locate this shield-shaped insect, slightly less than an inch long, take care not to squash it. For this is the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (Halyomorpha halys), and its name is fair warning.

Let’s unwrap that name a little. “Marmorated” is a word one doesn’t often hear. It refers to the marble-like pattern on the bug’s back. “Stink” needs no definition, but an article in the Wall Street Journal likens it to, “cilantro mixed with burned rubber and dirty socks.” Since I take great care to handle these insects carefully, I thankfully cannot attest to the accuracy of that description. Finally, “bug.” After years of having been told that creatures with six legs were “insects” and not “bugs”, imagine my surprise when I found there was indeed a subset of insects known as “true bugs.” Stink bugs are in that category. One way to tell when an insect is really a bug is the X shape of their wings when folded on their back.

This Asian native was first discovered in Pennsylvania around 2003. Like the Asian ladybugs, the marmorated stink bug likes to come inside for the winter. It won’t harm you or your house, but it is a serious threat to a very long list of crops and ornamentals including corn, soybeans, apples, tomatoes, butterfly bush, redbud, and sunflower.

If you find them in your home, please don’t panic. Pesticide will probably do more harm to your health than it is worth, and although you can vacuum them up, your vacuum may stink for quite a while. They are easy to catch (gently, within a facial tissue) and then release outside or flush down the toilet. In the meantime, scientists are experimenting with pheromone traps and other control methods.

Text © Lauretta Jones. This article originally appeared in the Somers Record. It was inspired by a question sent in by David in Katonah to the Somers Land Trust website. Send your nature questions to Lauretta is the treasurer of of the Somers Land Trust, an artist and teacher, cyclist, gardener and ballroom dancer.

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