How to keep stink bugs at bay

October 9, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: Need some reinforcements in the battle of the stink bugs? Here’s a story from March 2016 written by former Beacon Journal home and garden writer Mary Beth Breckenridge. 

 

I’ve had it with stink bugs.

 

Like lots of Northeast Ohio homes, my house has become a haven for the creepy crawlers for the last few winters. Apparently, Chez Breck is the Sarasota of the local insect population.

 

A day doesn’t pass that I don’t spot one someplace — buzzing around a lamp, crawling on a wall, startling me in the shower. The other day, I flicked one off the bathroom faucet and tried to wash it down the drain, but it kept crawling back out like some six-legged Rasputin.

 

Luckily, my infestation is minimal compared to some folks’. I’ve gotten emotional calls from readers whose homes are overrun by the primordial-looking creatures.

Gross. And I’m not even phobic about insects.

 

The brown marmorated stink bug became a big nuisance in our area about five years ago, sometime after arriving on this continent from its native Asia. Its numbers have multiplied because there just aren’t enough predators here to keep the bugs in check.

They come indoors in the fall to get out of the cold, and they spend the winter in places like attics and wall cavities. They leave when the weather starts to warm — if they can find a way out. If not, they die indoors.

 

The good news is they aren’t known to be harmful to people or pets, except that large numbers can add to airborne allergens. And they don’t make little stink bugs while they’re living the easy life inside your walls.

 

The bad news is they often invite their friends to spend the winters with them. I recently learned that when a brown marmorated stink bug finds a cozy spot to stay, it emits a chemical signal that serves as a sort of party invitation.

 

Hoping for some miracle solution, I called Dave Shetlar, Ohio State University’s “Bug Doc,” for guidance on dealing with the insects.

 

He said we’re seeing a lot of stink bugs this winter because our yo-yo temperatures are confusing the bugs. Whenever we get a warm spell, bugs that had been lying low in our attics or walls think spring has arrived, and they set off to try to find a way back outdoors. But because their little bug brains have a hard time remembering how they got inside in the first place, they wander into our rooms looking for an exit.

It’s only an annoyance for me to scoop up the occasional bug and usher it outside, but I know that a lot of people with big infestations wish they could bug-spray the critters to insect heaven.

 

Unfortunately, there’s just no good insecticide option, Shetlar said.

 

The bug bombs and kill-on-contact sprays available to consumers might kill the bugs they touch, but they don’t reach into the hiding places where most of the bugs are overwintering, Shetlar said. Even the insecticides that pest-control professionals apply around the outside perimeter of a house are limited in their effectiveness, because the claws and hairs on stink bugs’ feet raise them above the residue. Any insecticide the bugs do pick up is unlikely to be ingested, because stink bugs don’t clean their feet as some other insects do.

 

There’s another problem, too: Even if you can kill the bugs — say, with an insecticidal dust — the dead bug bodies can become food for carpet beetles, the Penn State Extension points out. Unlike the annoying, but fairly harmless stink bugs, carpet beetles can do damage to woolens and dry goods in your house, so you certainly don’t want to feed them and cause a carpet beetle population boom.

 

About all you can do is try to keep the bugs out in the first place.

 

Stink bugs often make their way from wall cavities to rooms through cracks behind baseboards, around window and door trim, and around exhaust fans and ceiling lights. Caulking those openings can block their access to your living spaces, so at least you won’t have them crawling across your TV screen or dropping into your Cheerios.

Then once the weather gets warmer, you should make a concerted effort to tighten up your home so stink bugs can’t find a way in next fall. That means doing things like using caulk or spray foam to seal cracks and holes in the exterior surfaces and making sure window screens are tight-fitting and in good repair.

 

Roof and soffit vents are common entry points for stink bugs, so make sure those are screened, Shetlar said. It’s also a good idea to screen your fireplace chimney, he said, but you’ll need to remember to remove the screen before you build a fire so you don’t restrict the air flow.

 

Finding those openings in your home’s exterior can be a challenge, but a home energy audit or assessment can point out many of them. After all, if an opening is letting heated or cooled air get out, it’s probably also letting bugs get in.

 

If you’re a customer of Dominion East Ohio, you can get an assessment for $50 through its Home Performance with Energy Star program. Details are in the “Ways to Save” section of http://www.dom.com, or call 877-287-3416.

 

You might lower your heating and cooling bills as a result.

 

Then you can thank the stink bugs.

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