Bugger Off, Stink Bugs

Photo by Tracy Leskey of the Appalachian Fruit Research Station
Photo by Tracy Leskey of the Appalachian Fruit Research Station

Armadillos have reached southern Kentucky, while the Asian longhorn beetle is poised just across the Ohio River in southern Ohio. Both are on the march to Louisville. The brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) got here first.

Armadillos (possums on the half-shell) root around like feral hogs and make a mess of gardens. The Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) works above ground. ALB is a more looming menace to a wider diversity of trees than the emerald ash borer. Emerald ash borer reached Louisville in 2010 after launching a take-no-prisoners offensive from Canton, MI, where it was first discovered in 2002. EAB, a picky Asian monovore, takes out nearly every one of the six Eastern North American ash species within its reach.

It is frightening to think what the ALB might do with its hunger for maples, willows, birches, cherries, buckeyes, sycamores, elms and ashes—as if ashes didn’t have it bad enough already. Estimated losses of more than a billion trees been have projected from the ALB, although eradication in affected areas may slow the spread.

Yet armadillos and the Asian longhorned beetle remain abstract threats.  (Well, I haven’t seen them, yet.) And as long as you don’t have porous soffits or leave the windows or doors open, you won’t have to worry about a home invasion of either of these, when they do arrive.

But BMSB has become a nuisance—inside and out—in over 39 states since it was first discovered in Allentown, PA, in 1998. It is suspected the highly mobile bug hitched a ride into the U.S., a few years earlier, on Asian wooden pallets that were not kiln dried.Hey There, Stink Bug  by Leslie Bulion

BMSB spends six months indoors and makes itself at home after forcing entry. If you have a staff like Downton Abbey’s, you’ll never be bothered. But if you are your own manservant, you’ll be called upon to vacuum the little buggers off the walls at home when the stink bugs appear from nowhere. Vacuuming is the prescribed method for elimination (insert a pair of panty hose inside the vacuum bag, and immediately dispose of it after vacuuming ). You don’t want to swat the bugs and end up with your modest abbey smelling like skunky cilantro.

Leslie Bulion, who wrote And Hey There, Stink Bug, a charming collection of children’s poems about insects, probably never met the BMSB.

There are at least ten native American stink bugs, though Cynthia Westcott’s 687-page classic, The Gardener’s Bug Book, Fourth Edition (1972), devotes barely a page to ten of the homegrown stinkers. Native stink bugs are a pest kept in balance by natural predators, but BMSB currently has free rein.

BMSB is lingering around homes in Kentucky, just waiting to assault farms and gardens in the next few weeks. Ric Bessin, Extension Entomologist with the University of Kentucky, says, “BMSB won’t eliminate species, but when we have these outbreak populations, the damage to crops like peaches, sweet corn, apples, tomatoes is substantial. It’s not that plants don’t yield well, but BMSB badly affects the quality and yield. There is not a single field crop in Kentucky that is not affected.”

An Asian predator, waiting in the wings, is currently in U.S. quarantine pending environmental risk assessment on its possible introduction. Bessin went on to say, “It’s not just a matter of going to Asia, collecting them and introducing them. It takes years of study on the wasp parasitoids to determine whether they will be a threat to beneficial insects before submitting data to USDA’s Animal Plant and Inspection Station.”

Photo…Rutgers - New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station
Photo…Rutgers – New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station

Finally, Bessin struck a hopeful tone, “The world is not going to end when these things come in, but we are going to have to adapt.”

Meanwhile, armadillos and the Asian longhorned beetle are within striking distance of Louisville, but it’s not all bad. The winter’s been mild and there have been plenty of early blooms on snowdrops, crocus, narcissus, witch hazels and hellebores.

Best of all, last month’s monster meteorite landed in a Siberian lake, not down the street in Louisville.


  1. My HEY THERE, STINK BUG! page gets more hits than any of my other books, Allen, and I’m reasonably sure these folks under siege aren’t googling for poetry, though maybe it will help when nothing else does. I memorialized our green stink bug, but the BMSB started hitting the news in a big way just after the book came out, and I thought: YIKES! I wondered when someone clearing off of their porch by the shovelful might mention it. A book of “invaders” is on my project list!

    • Leslie, my search for BMSB led me to your wonderful book. My 6 year old granddaughter, who spends a lot of time in our garden, loves “Hey There Stink Bug! I think you’re onto something with a book of “invaders.” There seem plenty more of them waiting in the wings.

      Drosophila suzuki is a new arriviste to Kentucky this past year. This annoying spotted-wing vinegar fly was only first detected in California in 1998. It has a big appetite for soft fruit.

  2. UGH. Stink bugs…
    I just love having one of these b@$t@rd$ dive bombing me while I am trying to work on my computer… terrible things.
    My problem with them mainly [other than their eggs that I have to pop on my squash plants…] is when one of my dogs finds one and ‘plays’ with it. Skunky cilantro is EXACTLY how I would put it, *h-hurk*!

  3. I didn’t look close enough to see if it was a BMSB. It was a stink bug coming out of the wood work along with hundreds of ladybugs and dozens of wasps. I used window screen and hard wire cloth on my attic vents and still get a house full of bugs that wake up on warm spring days. Who knows how they are getting in.

    In late fall when my cozy cabin in the forest is swarmed by millions and I do mean millions, of ladybugs it is a sight to behold. For now there are a lot of trees in the forest, minus the hemlocks, hence the bugs.

    At least the stink bugs inside have numbered less than five, so far. I vacuum bugs regularly this time of year.

  4. On the bright side, BSMBs haven’t reached California yet. But we do have harlequin bugs, which are in the stink-bug family but are pretty. At one community garden, every brassica that has started to bloom is overrun with them.

    And Drosophila suzukii — beware!! I stopped eating my thornless blackberries a couple years ago when every berry that was even marginally ripe had tiny maggots swimming around in it. Raspberries were fine that spring, but the fall crop was infested so badly that I took out the raspberry bushes, too — and raspberries were my favorite fruit. As of last year, I didn’t find any maggots in the boysenberries, strawberries, or blueberries.

    • Drosophila suzukii was first reported in Kentucky last year! This vinegar fly wasted no time getting here from California, where it was first found in 1998. I was hoping to plant some raspberries this year. I may have to re-think this…

  5. “Great, just great, another invading species to look forward to. Stink bugs in the house? C’mon predators!”

    Couldn’t agree more..

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