Add the Great Stink Bug Count to the list of projects interrupted by the shutdown of the federal government. That’s unfortunate because it’s prime time for stink bugs as they look for indoor spaces to spend the winter. So while the halls of government may be vacant, homes in Washington, D.C., the surrounding area, and beyond are buzzing with unwanted activity in what may be a boom year for stink bugs.
The mid-Atlantic states, including Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia, have the largest and most damaging infestations of stink bugs but the beetles have been found in 40 states, including Hawaii. To track their whereabouts, the U.S. Agricultural Department had been asking people to participate in the Great Stink Bug Count from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. But now the key researcher has been furloughed and the website has gone dark.
Update: The USDA reopened the website on Oct. 17.
But the shutdown doesn’t mean that you can’t take action now and perhaps share your information later (fingers crossed). Researchers have been asking homeowners to count the number of stink bugs on the sides of their house (north, south, east, and west) once a day between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. and to tell them the color of the home, its elevation and the species of plants and trees surrounding it.
An invasive species, the stink bug, officially called the brown marmorated stink bug, has no natural predator in this country. Earlier this year, the USDA announced that it was the agency’s top "invasive insect of interest." The Environmental Protection Agency has approved two insecticides for growers, many of whom have lost whole crops to the invaders, but no pesticides have been found safe for use inside the home.
How to get rid of them
The best way to keep stink bugs out of your house is to block them from entering, according to Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences. Seal cracks around windows, doors, siding, pipes, behind chimneys, and underneath the wood fascia and other openings with good quality silicone or silicone-latex caulk. Repair or replace damaged screens on your doors and windows.
Having a licensed pest control service apply approved insecticides around the perimeter of your house in the fall just prior to the bugs congregating may offer some minor relief. But Penn State cautions that because insecticides are broken down by sunlight, the residual effect of the material will be greatly decreased and may not even last a week.
If the bugs are finding their way into your home, try to find the openings where they came in. Typically, stink bugs will crawl through cracks under or behind baseboards, around window and door trim, and around exhaust fans or lights in ceilings. Seal these openings as well as you can with caulk or other suitable materials, Penn State recommends.
If you find you are constantly plucking the slow-moving insects off your walls, dump them into a pail of soapy water, where they’ll die. You can remove living and dead stink bugs with a vacuum cleaner but use a bagged model and be forewarned that the vacuum may take on the odor of the bugs. In fact, if you have a serious infestation, you may want to dedicate an old vacuum for this purpose.
With stink bugs on the move, researchers are considering whether to introduce the bugs’ natural predators from Asia, including a tiny wasp, but that could lead to other problems. To stem the invastion, a number of governmental agencies and research universities have banded together to share information on the website Stop brown marmorated stink bugs.
—Mary H.J. Farrell