Stink bugs start fall crawl into buildings, homes

Sep. 26, 2013 @ 08:38 AM

They’re everywhere this fall – but they’re relative newcomers.

Thumbnail-sized brown or gray bugs crawling into homes, cars and businesses around Caldwell County are brown marmorated stink bugs – not the green stink bugs native to North Carolina.

Native to Korea, brown marmorated stink bugs first crawled their way into North Carolina in 2009, after entering the United States in 2001. These insects start making their way into warm structures – like your house – in September and October, seeking winter shelter. They can’t harm people, but they do, true to their name, secrete a chemical that doesn’t smell particularly pleasant if you squish them.

“During the summer, up until this point, they’ve been out feeding, out in the landscape doing their thing,” Caldwell County extension agent Amanda Taylor said. “Now that it’s getting cold, they basically try to find any sort of shelter that they can. So they come in if screens aren’t sealed tightly, if doors aren’t, if the weather stripping is bad.”

The brown marmorated stink bug feeds on a handful of commercial crops, and in some places they’ve been a major problem for farmers – particularly for apple farmers in the Brushy Mountains, Taylor said.

In Caldwell County, the bugs are more of a nuisance than anything, Taylor said – and getting rid of them is largely a matter of sealing your home and playing a waiting game for winter.

The extension service recommends adjusting or installing tight-fitting sweeps or thresholds at the bottom of exterior doors; installing weather-stripping around other parts of the doorframe; plugging utility openings -- the places where air-conditioner pipes, phones, cable TV and other wires enter the foundation and siding -- with caulk, cement, urethane foam or copper mesh; and caulking around windows, doors and siding.

Don’t use pesticides – they’re not effective for these bugs, Taylor said. And no matter how good the weather is, leave your doors shut.

“It’s not usually an answer that people enjoy hearing,” Taylor said. “A lot of people want to spray a pesticide, and the problem is that they’re not clustered in one area where, if you get these few, they’re going to be gone. There’s always going to be more.”

In other parts of the country, Asian stink bugs have caused more lasting problems. They’ve wiped out crops – apples, peaches, soybeans, tomatoes – across the Northeast. In 2010, the year before the bugs made their way to North Carolina, University of Maryland entomologist Mike Raupp told the Washington Post a “biblical” invasion of the insects was coming – and soon found his quote crawling into headlines around the Internet.  

Of course, the bugs will be (temporarily) gone soon enough. Just wait for it to “get cold and stay cold,” Taylor said – your unwelcome visitors should vacate the premises by then.