"What's that smell?" If that phrase has ruined a dinner on the patio, or a nice ride in the car with the windows down, then you might live in one of the states being overtaken by stink bugs, known more formally as Halyomorpha halys or the brown marmorated stink bug.
Call it what you will, the noxious smell these bugs produce when scared or crushed will make you gag and likely clear a room. The stink bug is a recent visitor to the United States, and it seems to like it here. As a consequence, many homeowners are wondering about how to get rid of stink bugs.
Originally from Asia
First a little history: It seems one specific type of stink bug — the brown marmorated stink bug — hitched a ride here from Asia, and came to eastern Pennsylvania where they it was first collected in 1998 in Allentown, but probably arrive a few years earlier, according to the PennState Extension Service.
The pests spread north to Maine, south to Florida, west to California and now can be found in 44 states and two Canadian provinces. In the past few years, there has been one generation annually, but a mild winter and warm spring could enable additional generations to reproduce, increasing the population everywhere, and taking up residence in our homes, sheds and vehicles.
More than that, this infestation is damaging crops and foliage across the country, reported The New York Times. Back in Asia, brown marmorated stink bugs like to feast on peaches, figs, mulberries, citrus fruits and persimmons, but they seem to have expanded their palate abroad to dine on ornamentals, beans, soy beans and most fruit trees. The damage caused by stink bugs leaves plants and produce unfit for market.
Securing your home
So let's get down to business: How do we get rid of stink bugs? According to Rick Steinau of Ask the Exterminator, true eradication of stink bugs has to start at the farm level and in the crop fields.
This can mean anything from securing your home so the little buggers can’t get in to killing them after they enter. Steinau suggests that you make sure your windows and doors are properly sealed, and that protective screens are placed over air vents and chimneys.
Science backs up Steinau's theory that exclusion is the best method.
Researchers from Virginia Tech and the U.S. Department of Agriculture conducted a series of tests to determine just how small of an opening or gap stink bugs can fit through. After placing 30 stink bugs in boxes with various size holes and slits, they determined that the bugs couldn't pass through a hole smaller than 7 millimeters or a slit smaller than 3 millimeters. So if you have any gaps in your house larger than these, you'll probably want to install some mesh wiring or fill in the holes before the stink bugs decide to make your house their home.
In the spirit of being planet-friendly, there are some things to try before resorting to any chemicals.
In a spray bottle, combine 32 ounces of hot water and three-quarters of a cup of Dawn dish washing liquid and spray the exterior of your home, concentrating on those cracks, windows and doors. For an extra kick, you can use the anti-bacterial variety, but understand that it contains additional chemicals.
Steinau suggests another non-pesticide alternative: "Since invading stink bugs often over-winter in attics, consider an insect electrocution system," he says. "Install this in a dark attic, and it will help you collect the stink bugs that find their way into your home."
If all else fails, there is pesticide. Any bug spray will work if sprayed directly on the stink bug, but Lysol also works and smells better.
Steinau says there also are materials that provide residual protection, like Talstar Pro and a new product called Suspend PolyZone. These products work well if you treat your home's exterior under the eaves, entryways, and cracks and crevices.
Editor's note: This story has been updated since it was originally published in April 2012.