Stealthily slinking (while stinking) into your house

Barbara Hootman

Kay Carter is scooping up the stink bugs at her home in Shope Creek these days.

"They are literally everywhere this year,” she said. “I vacuum them up and pour them out, I flush them down the toilet and they just keep coming  I think the hot dry summer has something to do with the numbers we are seeing this year.  I try to never smash one because they smell so bad.”

The brown marmorated stink bug is in the midst of its annual migration into homes, buildings and anywhere else that it is warm and dry for winter. It will emerge from drapery folds, picture frames and packed pantries next spring to search for its way back outside.

Swannanoa Valley residents are scooping, vacuuming and sweeping stink bugs out of their homes this time of year.

The stink bug is a newcomer to the list of pests in the United States. Native to eastern Asia, it was found first in Pennsylvania in 1996, likely having hitched a ride on a boat or plane.  By 2004 it had spread throughout Pennsylvania and into the 47 other contiguous states. The pest is not harmful to humans, but it is a serious threat to many vegetables and fruit-bearing trees.

Paul Bartels, biology professor at Warren Wilson College, said the stink bug is not a nasty pest like some others that we have brought into the country.

“The stink bug doesn’t transmit diseases, and it doesn’t bite,” Bartels said. “It does give off a foul odor as a defense mechanism."

Fitting for a pest, it hangs out in invasive trees - the Tree of Heaven and the Princess Tree. And lucky them, it has few natural predators. It's also a wimp, needing a warm haven in winter, unlike native stink bugs that weather the worst.

The marmorated stink bug invades homes probably because homes resemble the warm, moist caves from which they came in China. Unfortunately, they have a long memory, returning to places where they've wintered before.

Joyce Norton, Black Mountain resident, said she definitely has more stink bugs this year than in previous years. Her choice of weapon is a vacuum cleaner. She sucks them up and dumps them out.

“I have a small flock of chickens, and I don’t know if they eat them or not," she said, "but they aren’t cutting down on the numbers of stink bugs that I have."

Prevention seems to be the best line of defense against the annual invasion. Try sealing cracks around doors and windows. Caulk holes around pipes and cables coming into the home. Screen vents in crawl spaces and attics. Weather-strip gaps under exterior doors. If all else fails, call a professional exterminator.  Once the insects establish themselves inside, they seem almost impossible to evict.

Trent Ferguson, owner of Professional Landscape Solutions in Black Mountain, said there are natural and chemical extermination solutions that work on stink bugs.

“The stink bugs not only eat fruit crops but ornamental plants as well,” Ferguson said.  “Lady bugs were imported from Asia to eat aphids and mites, and now we have another pest from the same area. For those who want to trap the stink bugs we will have them (traps) in stock soon."