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Stink bugs are summers worst pest–here’s how to deal

Expert advice for dealing with these summer pests

Collage of stink bugs in their natural habitat. Credit: Reviewed / Getty Images / ibunt / Joesboy / Marco_de_Benedictis

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If you’ve recently noticed an ominous infestation of insects in your home, yard or garden, you aren’t alone. Stink bug season is here and with it brings millions of brown, shield-shaped, insects out from their hiding places and into the spaces where you’d rather not have them. No—they aren’t cicadas, but what exactly are flying stink bugs? What do they want and why do they stink? And most importantly, can they bite, sting, make you sick, or damage your home?

We spoke to Dalton Ludwick, assistant professor and extension entomologist at Texas A&M University’s AgriLife Extension Service. Well-versed in stink bug biology and behavior, Ludwick explains all about stink bugs and what to do if you see them at home.

What are stink bugs?

Brown marmorated stink bugs (Halyomorpha halys) are a newer resident of the U.S., hailing from Asia and first spotted on the East Coast in 1996. These days, you can find stink bugs in almost every state.

Complete with six legs, three body sections, two long antennae and measuring in at roughly three-quarters of an inch, these flying insects produce an unpleasant odor when they are defending themselves or unfortunately when they are squished. Because they are not native to the U.S., they don’t have any natural predators here, which is why they have begun to multiply rapidly—and the reason you might be noticing more of them in your home.

When is stink bug season?

Close-up of a stink bug on a leaf.
Credit: Reviewed / Getty Images / Backiris

They rise as soon as the warmer temperatures kick in.

Just as the flowers bloom and the grass begins to grow, spring is a time of renewal for stink bugs. After a long winter of hibernating, they begin to rapidly emerge from their hiding places in search of food once the weather warms up.

Most active in March through September, stink bugs will stick around all summer before the cool fall temperatures cause them to once again scurry for cover so they can hunker down until spring.

Why are stink bugs in my house?

We have some bad news to share: Stink bugs are in your house, because they are actually “in” your house, according to Ludwick.

“Brown marmorated stink bugs are attracted to tall structures they can hide in,” he explains. “Which unfortunately is our homes because they offer warm hollow spaces that they can get into. It wouldn’t serve them well to just lay outside on the ground, so they congregate together and stay safe.”

Hiding in even the smallest of spaces, stink bugs will take up residency in a home’s walls, windowsills, venting systems, attic and anywhere else that offers warm protection, where they will then remain for the winter before emerging again in the spring.

However, they don’t always emerge out the same way they came in, which is why you may now be finding them in the strangest of places such as falling from a light fixture if they had been hiding in the ceiling.

Are stink bugs harmless?

Photo of a stink bug climbing up a piece of wood in front of a background.
Credit: Reviewed / Getty Images / ibunt

These little guys probably don't care that you're there.

“Brown marmorated stink bugs are largely what we call a nuisance pest,” Ludwick says.

Feeding on plants, they don’t carry disease, don’t sting, and aren’t known to bite humans. Although people can occasionally be allergic to the proteins a stink bug sheds, it’s not very common and the reaction is minimal. And, they won’t even damage your property, as they don’t bore their way through anything, and don’t feed on wood, fabric, or materials such as drywall.

“They just come in and sit there,” explains Ludwick, with the most irritating human quality being the odor they put off when squished. “It’s been described as smelling like cilantro, but honestly some people aren’t even bothered by the smell.”

Although stink bugs can make you feel a bit unsettled at home, the big problem that they pose is that they are eating plants which reduce the fruit population agriculturally, shares Ludwick.

Controlling stink bugs has proved difficult, in part because they have no native predators to prevent them from multiplying, but also because although insecticides work, it’s a fine balance to ward them off while also protecting food sources from being exposed to large amounts of chemicals.

How to get rid of stink bugs

On a smaller scale such as your home or garden, Ludwick recommends plain old soap and water.

“They won’t harm you, but if you find one in your home and you’re feeling a little bit spiteful, you can drop it in a glass of soapy water, feed them to a bird, or create a trap with a light and a bowl of soapy water. Although, you’re not really going to make a dent in their population,” he explains. “If you have an exorbitant amount of time you can attempt to seal up all their entry points into your home such as cracks or spaces, but since an adult brown marmorated stink bug can fit through a space as small as three millimeters by seven millimeters, it’s really not even worth it.”

As for your garden, Ludwick suggests inspecting plants for egg masses and then washing them off with soapy water. If you plan to use insecticides, he strongly urges that you read the label on the bottle to make sure that what they are using is effective for treating stink bugs.

“It’s also helpful to search online to find the insects and eggs you are seeing to make sure brown marmorated stink bugs are what you are actually dealing with,” he says.

At the end of the day it would appear that stink bugs are here to stay whether we want them or not, but if it makes you feel any better, although they come in uninvited and seriously overstay their welcome, come spring they are just as eager as you are to get back outside and into the fresh air.

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