Sept. 26, 2010— -- Meet Stink. He's got glands that release a foul, musty odor when he's mishandled or feels threatened.
He's just in from Asia and he's disguised as a small brown shield. But don't let that fool you. He's not the one who'll need to be intercepting attacks this Fall.
Rather, while the people of the Northeast have been distracted over the past several months -- with their eyes fixed on their beds -- Stink and his friends have been letting themselves in through the back door -- your vents.
And once the stink bugs are in your home, it's unfortunately very difficult to get them out.
Most Americans turn to manmade pesticides, when faced with a bug infestation of this kind; but no luck there this time. No, these super critters appear to be resistant to the stock of pesticides in this country. And, as such, the little shield-shaped bug has nullified one of man's defenses.
So, what about Mother Nature's defenses? There are natural checks and balances -- predators and prey, warm and cool weather -- in place for just this reason, right?
Wrong. The critters are native to China, Japan and Korea. And, while there is talk of an Asian wasp that controls their population growth over there, there is currently no natural predator for them in America.
Bad news bugs.
And to make matters worse, the stink bugs appear to have no problem whatsoever migrating to find more favorable weather conditions for themselves. In their native Asia, that meant a move to rocky outcroppings; a cold-weather home, which apart from the occasional climber or caver, seemed to bother no one. Here in America, though, they've settled for the closest equivalent: Urban office buildings, hotels and suburban homes.
And that's why homeowners across the mid-Atlantic region have been discovering mushrooming populations of these stink bugs in their homes of late. Parke Brewer lives in Silver Spring, Maryland and he is one of those unlucky homeowners.
"They're everywhere," Brewer says, surveying the rafters and screen windows of his covered porch. "If you look around this whole porch, which we like to enjoy if it's a nice day out, for dinner, for lunch, for relaxing; but when the stink bugs are around, they'll fly and hit you in the face or in the head. And it's not very pleasant to be out here. So, I've tried to attack them as best as I can, but I'm losing the battle."
Brewer is not alone. Since 2001, when the stink bugs were first spotted in Allentown, Pa., their population has burgeoned and they have spread to 29 states in mid-Atlantic America.
"It's kind of a perfect storm of conditions that are allowing these guys to explode," says Mike Raupp, an entomologist at the University of Maryland. "One, we used to use heavy pesticides. Now, these bugs are increasing in numbers. Two, we're becoming an importing nation. Bugs are coming in. Three, people are going to countries we've never gone to before; lots of second and third world countries, where bugs like bed bugs are common.
"So, there are lots of opportunities for bugs to come in. Also, this year the weather was perfect for bugs to explode."
So, this year's weather, which has proven such a foe to farmers across the country by withering crops with its extreme heat and droughts; appears to have enabled yet another farm foe in the stink bug. And that's exactly where stink bugs have been hiding all this time; in gardens, orchards and fields, sucking the sap out of the plants there.
But with the coming of Fall, they've transformed their menace from a business to a personal one.
"It's never ending," says Brewer, clutching a plastic bag full of the stink bugs, which he's captured and now suffocating. "You'll trap or you'll capture or smack them with a fly swatter, 20 to 30 times in one day. Then, there'll be that many more even within an hour. I take it personally and I try to catch as many as I can, but it hardly seems to put a dent in them."
As a result, Brewer's porch is largely out of commission, due to the unpleasant aroma which he insists the bugs emit, even if he does not squash them. So what is there to do?
Well, some people don't find the smell that bad.
"Stinky is as stinky does. Stinky is a relative thing," Raupp says. "I don't find them unpleasant, but a lot do. Some people say they smell like cilantro. Then, I say, put some salt on them."
In fact, in some countries like Laos, the bugs are eaten and even considered a delicacy because of their pungent smell. But, if that's not exactly your taste, there is this bright side to look at:
The stink bugs are not harmful to you, your children or your possessions. They have not been known to carry diseases. They're merely going to seek shelter in your home and, occasionally, make the place smell really bad.
"You're never going to beat Mother Nature," Raupp says. "Bet on the bugs. The bugs have the answer. They've been at this thing for 6 million years. People don't have to freak out. It's not a plague, even though they're showing up in biblical numbers."