Early last summer, I watched as orange striped nymphs of the common squash bug scurried along the stems of my zucchini plants looking for a hiding place from me.
It is common for the insect to have several generations going on one plant at the same time, eggs clinging inconspicuously to the undersides of leaves, crawlers sucking the juice from the leaves and stems and adult beetles wandering lazily along the stems.
''I have squash bugs,'' I told my husband.
''Those are stink bugs,'' he said.
Not looking to pursue an argument, I went looking online for what exactly those insects were and found we were both right. So I immediately went on the warpath, searching out the orange, jelly-like eggs on the undersides of the leaves of not only my summer squash and zucchini, but the huge pumpkin leaves as well. When I found egg masses, I picked off the leaf and crushed the eggs in an effort to stop a continual summer infestation.
These annoying, but common, garden pests overwinter as adults in garden debris and lawn waste, which is a good enough reason to clean up the garden at the end of the season.
So you can imagine my surprise when last week, clinging to my bathroom window screen long after zucchini and summer squash plants were tossed on the compost heap, was a large squash bug - or stink bug, if you prefer. I wondered why this insect was still hanging around so close to the end of the season. He (or she) should have been in its winter hidey-hole, contemplating a new season of egg laying next spring.
I wish now I had paid more attention to the bug on my screen. A few days later I was alerted to a different sort of stink bug - imagine dramatic music here - the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug. And now I'm passing on that information to you because if you are a vegetable gardener, you might want to cut out this column and save it. It might save you the same type of hissy-fit I had earlier this year over the - music again - Viburnum Leaf Beetle.
With its common squash bug / stink bug shield-like body, this insect is easily dismissable. But this particular species, called "marmorated" because of its marble-like coloration, is new to North America. Entomologists believe this insect was accidentally released into eastern Pennsylvania in 1998 and in the past two years has set up breeding colonies in surrounding states, including Ohio.
Because it is such a new insect to us, no known predators have been identified to help keep its populations in check. This could be our new Japanese Beetle.
This bug, a known agricultural pest in its native Korea, China, Japan and Taiwan, is a pest of fruit, vegetables and ornamentals. Surprisingly enough, squash isn't among the host plants listed for this pest, but peaches, Asian pears, asparagus, peppers, green beans, corn and many fruit crops are listed. Also according to the factsheet, this insect also likes some of our shrubs and trees, including crabapple, maple, American holly, walnut, redbud and more.
Adult bugs are approximately three-quarters of an inch in size with the familiar shield-like body that is as wide as it is long. Distinguishing the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug from others are white bands on its antennae and dark and light banding on the edges of the abdomen. Eggs are light green, barrel-shaped and, like the rest of the species, are found in masses or clusters on the undersides of leaves. The immature nymphs, according the factsheet, look somewhat like ticks, are yellowish brown, have red eyes, and are mottled with black and red.
Why I wished I had paid more attention to the bug on my window screen is because unlike other stink bugs that overwinter in debris, these insects are like the multi-colored Asian Lady Beetle and try to get inside our homes for the winter. I wonder if that's what my window screen bug had on its mind.
Researchers are currently testing pesticides for control of this newly introduced insect. In the meantime, seal up the cracks and crevices around your house to keep them from entering and look for egg clusters next spring on your garden plants.
Entolmologists continue to monitor the range of this insect.
If you think you've encountered the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, contact the Trumbull County OSU Extension Office at 330-638-6783. You also can check it out online at njaes.rut-gers.edu /stinkbug/ identify.asp.