Autumn means stink bugs are back in homes

WARREN — Locals should beware of the pesky brown marmorated stink bug beginning its fall invasion of homes.

Having benefited from the warmer summer, this walking problem for soy, corn and fruit farmers now is making its move into northeast Ohio homes as temperatures dip into the cooler fall season, according to the bi-annual “Bug Barometer” released recently by the National Pest Management Association.

And if they make their way into area residences, homeowners will have a tough time getting rid of them, pest control experts say.

“They were not a problem 20 years ago,” said Lee Beers, Agriculture Educator at the Trumbull County Ohio State Extension. Although Ohio does have a native version of the stink bug that is less common, this new version — the brown marmorated stink bug  —  was accidentally introduced from Asia  in the 1990s and reached Ohio in the early 2000s.

The non-native species doesn’t have natural predators, allowing its numbers to grow exponentially, said Tammi Rogers, the agriculture and natural resources program assistant with the Ohio State University Extension Office in Ohio’s Coshocton County.

“Since it’s a new pest, we’re not sure how it’s going to be manifest,” Rogers said. “I suspect we’ll have years where their populations are quite high and then years where you won’t see very many of them.”

The critters, named for the odor they emit when frightened or squashed, originated in China, Japan and Taiwan and seeks nooks and crannies inside the home to “lay low” and hide during the winter months, Beers said. They can fly and crawl and are one of seven or eight species of the bug.

The bugs feed on a wide variety of host plants in gardens, orchards and fields.

“They get on apples and they distort them,” said Brian Eucher of Hartford Orchards in Trumbull County.

While Eucher said the apples in his orchard have not been affected by the pests this year, he has heard of areas closer to Pittsburgh, Pa., that have had significant attacks on their fruit, particularly peaches, creating something that looks like “cat faces” when they eat the fuzzy surface.

Eucher said the pests harm the fruit quality in appearance only, by making the fruit look distorted or take on an ugly appearance caused by chew marks.

According to the Department of Entomology at Penn State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences, the insect is becoming an important agricultural pest in Pennsylvania. In 2010, it created losses in some apple and peach orchards, and it has been found feeding on blackberry, sweet corn, field corn and soybeans. It also has been known to cause damage to tomatoes, lima beans and green peppers.

There is no way to kill them, at least not once they are on the tree, because they have to be hit directly, Eucher said, so spraying trees doesn’t help. The bugs can fly off the leaves and they aren’t harmed by eating the chemicals on the leaves or on the fruit, Eucher said.

Making their way into northeast Ohio homes, stink bugs have been known to burrow into attics or behind outlets. They are a nuisance in fall and spring, but experts say they do no real harm to humans.

They don’t bite, and they don’t move quickly, so they are “catchable,” Beers said.

It’s the odor that comes from crushing or flushing them in the toilet that presents the greatest harm.

Some experts suggest the use of soapy water to first drown the pests, followed by emptying the soapy solution into the toilet or the yard.

Other ways of ridding the home of stink bugs, Beers said, is to create physical barriers by filling in nooks and crannies, especially the area between windows and around doors where the bugs might find a way inside. Another option includes spraying the outside perimeter of house doors and windows with an insecticide containing the chemical Bifenthrin as an active ingredient that should never be used inside, Beers said.

The Ohio State educator, however, favors a solution that offers the opportunity to collect the bugs in one fell-swoop.

“The best way to get rid of them is to vacuum them up,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.