Wild Profile: Meet the stink bugs

A macro photograph of a brown marmorated stink bug By Davide Bonora/Shutterstock

Stink bugs. Can’t live with ’em, can’t keep ’em from squeezing into your cottage and stinking up the joint. Well, you can. It just might take a little work.

Why are there so many stink bugs?

Fall is stink bug season. At least, that’s when you’re likely to notice them. As the temperatures drop, stink bugs—North America has more than 250 different species—start to move indoors…sometimes right into your cottage. “Lots of insects overwinter in the adult stage, which means that when the weather starts to get colder, they have to find places to spend the cold weather,” says Bob Anderson, an entomologist at the Canadian Museum of Nature. Great for the stink bug. Not so great for you.

Do stink bugs bite? Are stink bugs harmful?

In general, true stink bugs don’t bite or sting. The most they’ll do is land on your pant leg and freak you out. The invasive brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys, pictured), native to Asia, is harmful in the sense that it can destroy entire fruit and vegetable crops, along with a wide variety of plants. (If you think you spot one—look for the two distinctive white bands on the bug’s last two antenna segments—most provinces would like you to report the bug; they have online reporting forms like this one from the B.C. government.) To learn more about this invasive, and how to ID it, visit the Invasive Species Centre.

What do stink bugs smell like?

Stink bugs stink either when crushed, or when threatened. They release a strong-smelling substance from their abdomens. Most people liken it to cilantro, but others describe it as freshly cut grass, dirty socks, cat pee, Jolly Ranchers, rubber, cinnamon…In short, stink bugs smell like anything.

What attracts stink bugs? How do I repel stink bugs?

In spring, stink bugs are drawn to your property because of native plants or fruit trees. But they’re really only a nuisance when they come inside. Like plenty of other insects, they’re attracted to light, and they’ll find tiny openings to use as doorways into your cottage. There’s unfortunately no sure-fire way to repel them. Your best defense is the same defense that you’d use against any pest insect: inspecting the exterior of the cottage for any cracks and crevices, and sealing them up with caulk. Look around windows and doors, around siding and utility pipes, behind chimneys, and underneath the wood fascia. Look pretty much everywhere. (This will help keep your cottage free from other critters, too.)

As for chemical methods, an all-purpose, exterior spray—the sort that pest control companies use for cluster flies, “would likely do the job,” says Glen Robertson of Robertson’s Wildlife and Pest Control in Coldwater, Ont. The problem? You’d need to get this done early in the fall, before you start to notice them indoors, and a spray could also harm non-target insects. Which means you could end up killing beneficial bugs that you actually want around.

How do I get rid of stink bugs?

“We usually just tell people to vacuum them up,” says Robertson. (Get rid of the vacuum bag right away to avoid any stench.) Happily, the bugs won’t damage your cottage, breed and reproduce, eat your food, or do much of anything while they’re there. If they survive the winter, they’ll leave in the spring.

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