Step carefully: Cooler weather sends stink bugs indoors
Autumn brings with it many seasonal changes — some that we look forward to; others not so much.
For many people, one of the less-desirable aspects of fall is insects making their way indoors as temperatures begin to drop. Among those bugs trying to take shelter in your home until spring are stink bugs. If you're in the habit of squishing bugs you find around the house, you might want to think twice if you spy a flat, brown bug hiding out indoors, because it's probably a stink bug.
These insects' name isn't a misnomer. Stink bugs secrete a foul-smelling chemical when they are threatened or crushed, the New York Times reports. The odor is hard to characterize, with people saying it smells like anything from cilantro to the stink of skunk spray.
The stink a stink bug produces serves the same purpose as a skunk's stinky spray. Stink bugs don't bite or sting, so that foul-smelling secretion is a means of protecting themselves, according to NC State News. They have special glands in their thorax that are filled with the stinky secretion, and when threatened the bugs can release it through a structure called an evapatorium.
Stink bugs — officially called brown marmorated stink bugs — are an invasive pest. They are native to Asia, but they've been in the United States since the 1990s, first recorded in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 1996, according to Treehugger. They likely made their way to North America as stowaways on a shipping container. Today, they can be found in 44 U.S. states and four Canadian provinces. In other words, they are likely here to stay.
Mainly just a nuisance
The good news is they don't pose any threat to you or your home. They don't bite, and they don't carry diseases, according to the Morton Arboretum. They're mostly just a nuisance, even more so because of their smell. However, in some states, mostly in the eastern U.S., they do threaten some crops, particularly soybeans, sweet corn, tomatoes and fruits that grow on trees.
Stink bugs overwinter as adults. We start to see them in our homes around this time of year because they won't survive the winter outdoors. In the fall, they make their way into homes and other buildings, usually hiding out in safe spaces like attics. While indoors, they do move around from place to place, but they don't eat or breed until they move back outdoors in the spring, the Arboretum reports.
Keeping the stink at bay
Even though stink bugs won't cause you any harm, many of us would rather not find these bugs hiding out in the corners and crevices of our homes. The best way to avoid finding them inside is not giving them a way to get in in the first place.
The Morton Arboretum recommends caulking around any crevices and cracks around the outside of your home — check doors, windows, along the foundation and around air-conditioning units. You should also make sure chimneys and air vents are covered with protective screens.
You can also make an ecofriendly repellent spray you can use indoors around any cracks and crevices. In a spray bottle, combine three-quarters of a cup of Dawn dish-washing soap with 4 cups of hot water and shake well so the concoction is well mixed, Treehugger advises.
If the stink bugs have already made their way in, you can gently remove them by hand and place them outside, the Arboretum advises. Just remember not to step on or squish any stink bugs you find — unless you're ready to endure their off-putting smell for awhile.