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Stink Bugs: How to Get Rid of Stink Bugs in the Home & Garden | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Stink Bugs

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How to Get Rid of Stink Bugs

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What is that bug? Small and hard-shelled, brown and gray, it looks kind of like the shield of a Roman soldier. You have likely found a stink bug. Here’s how to keep them out of your home and garden!

There are a few native stink bug species, but we are mainly focusing on the non-native brown marmorated stink bug, Halyomorpha halys, which is a significant garden and agricultural pest.

What Are Stink Bugs?

Stink bugs, and our subject, H. halys, are part of the order Hemiptera, meaning they are a ‘true bug’ with a proboscis. They feed by sucking the juices out of plants. 

The brown marmorated stink bug is native to China, Japan, and Korea. It likely hitched a ride on a ship and was first found in the United States in 1998. Finding favorable conditions, it has multiplied quickly and may be found annually in over forty states. 

New research indicates that their range may be expanding as our climate changes. They are a severe pest of orchard, vineyard, and vegetable production, especially in the mid-Atlantic region. 

You’ll find references to the brown marmorated stink bug calling it BMSB for short. 

Why Are They In My House?

Stink bugs that mature during summer will often seek a nice, cozy, safe shelter for the winter: your home. They secrete a chemical to attract other stink bugs upon finding a suitable spot for a long winter’s nap. While they don’t do any structural damage to your house, they are a nuisance. 

To minimize the invasion, seal up windows and foundations and quickly remove any stink bugs you do find. The hose on your vacuum can be an effective and satisfying solution. The ‘stink’ they make when killed or vacuumed is not the same one they emit to attract other bugs. 

How Do Stink Bugs Damage Plants? 

Stink bugs can cause injury to plants through their physical feeding. Like a huge mosquito that bites plants, they suck out the plant juices and can also carry plant diseases. Stink bugs are generalists. Unlike other host-specific garden pests, they will make a snack out of anything tasty.

More damaging from an economic view, stink bugs will also feed on the fruits of our plants and orchards. Apples, cherries, raspberries, peaches, nectarines, tomatoes, corn, grapes, beans, and others can be the victim. The fruit attacked by stink bugs is often unmarketable, and losses reach millions per year in the mid-Atlantic region.

Identification

These bugs are pretty easy to ID as stink bugs, but if you want to be sure about the one you found, look at the edge of the abdomen. “Marmorated” means veined or marbled. At the thinner outer rim of the abdomen, the colors will alternate from dark to light, like stripes. Light stripes are also found on the antennae and the legs. 

brown marmorated stink bug
Brown marmorated stink bug. Photo by sruilk/Shutterstock

There are many other stink bugs, some of which are native to North America. Check out this Field Guide from Virginia Cooperative Extension for information on identifying BMSB and other look-alikes. (If you find close-up pictures of insects creepy, maybe skip it!)

Signs of Stink Bugs

Stink bugs are large enough to notice when walking about in your garden or orchard. They are about the size of a fingernail. Keep an eye out for grey-brown bugs on your tomatoes, peppers, corn, beans, and fruit trees. Check the undersides of leaves for egg masses as well. 

Look for these signs of stink bugs:

  • Adult BMSB on leaves or fruit, or in your house.
  • Nymphs are more brightly colored than adults, with orange, red, and black markings. 
  • Leaf stippling: damage is smaller than a pencil eraser at each site.
  • Masses of light-green or pale yellow eggs on the undersides of leaves from May through August, sometimes in groups of 20-30.
  • Small, off-color, soft, or spongy areas on fruit. The tissue inside may be discolored.
Control and Prevention

Stink Bug Prevention

Stink bugs can fly as far as 70 miles in a day. They overwinter and emerge in spring in wooded areas and buildings. You cannot really prevent them from arriving. 

  • Do keep an eye out for them. Monitoring for stink bug arrival in your area can be done with garden inspections or sticky cards. 
  • Check the undersides of leaves for eggs and nymphs. Commercial farms use pheromone-baited pyramid traps to track populations. They often arrive or emerge in May or June when temperatures warm up. 
  • In the garden, row covers can prevent adults from landing on your plants, feeding, and laying eggs. Choose spun-bonded or plastic materials. If the BMSB has a history of damaging your fruit, you may be able to do a ‘sanitation’ sweep to remove any eggs and adults. Then install row covers after pollination and fruit set.

Keeping Stink Bugs Out of the Home

The best defense to keep stink bugs out of your house is to seal it up tight. You’ll also get a double benefit of saving on your heating costs. 

Caulk around windows and doors, seal up the sill where the house meets the foundation, and clear away dead vegetation around your home’s base. Replace weather stripping on doors if it is old. Check this page from the US EPA for more ideas on how to deny them entry.

Promptly remove any stink bugs you find. While they won’t bite, they can create a mess. You also don’t want them calling five hundred or a thousand of their friends to cozy up behind your shelf for the winter. 

Controlling Stink Bugs in the Garden

In the orchard or garden, we don’t have many options for control. Hand-picking, i.e., gathering any adults, nymphs, and eggs and disposing of them, can help. Do so in the early morning or late evening when the cool temperatures make them less likely to fly. 

Most insecticides shown to be at least moderately effective against stink bugs are also general insecticides that will kill your beneficial insects. They are also limited to purchase by professionals.

Natural predators are vital in keeping stink bugs in check. Maintaining a garden friendly to predatory insects pays dividends in keeping many problematic garden pests from getting out of hand. Predatory insects may cause BMSB egg mortality as high as 50-60%. 

Planting pollinator strips, providing coarse debris, and eliminating general insecticides are all ways to encourage these helpful insects. Mulch and water sources are also valuable. 

For all things BMSB and more information on their life cycle, most commonly affected crops, updates, and other news, visit stopBMSB.org. StopBMSB is sponsored by the USDA and brings together over 50 researchers from 18 institutions to pool knowledge and provide it to the public free of charge.

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