Courtesy of USDA-ARS
Got stink bugs? If so, the federal government is asking you to count them over the next month beginning today. The smelly pests wreak havoc on crops and freak out homeowners when they come inside at this time of year looking for a warm place to spend the winter. To find out how many stink bugs there are and how they behave, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is asking citizens for daily counts from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15. The goal, of course, is to figure out how to manage this invasive species, which has no known predator in the U.S.
Officially known as the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, the pests have been found in 41 states and two Canadian provinces but are mostly clustered in the mid-Atlantic states with the most serious infestations in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia with populations growing in surrounding states. Estimates of crop damage caused by stink bugs approach $21 billion.
Stink bug researchers are hoping that last winter’s sustained frigid temperatures took a toll on the stink bug population. As Consumer Reports reported in February, an entomology professor at Virginia Tech discovered that 95 percent of the stink bugs he was studying succumbed to the cold temperatures. But we’ll have to wait for the results of the stink bug census to see if those findings hold true for other affected areas.
How to get rid of stink bugs
In the meantime, the best way to keep stink bugs out of your house is to block them from entering, according to Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences. Seal cracks around windows, doors, siding, pipes, behind chimneys, and underneath the wood fascia and other openings using good quality silicone or silicone-latex caulk. Repair or replace damaged screens on your doors and windows.
Typically, stink bugs get in by crawling through cracks under or behind baseboards, around window and door trim, and around exhaust fans and ceiling lights. Seal these openings as well as you can with caulk or other suitable materials. In addition to blocking the bugs, you’ll save energy by preventing cold air from coming in and warm air from escaping.
If you find you are constantly plucking the slow-moving insects off your walls, dump them into a pail of soapy water, where they’ll die. You can remove living and dead stink bugs with a vacuum cleaner but use a bagged model and be forewarned that the vacuum may take on the odor of the bugs. In fact, if you have a serious infestation, you may want to dedicate an old vacuum for that purpose.
To start your own stink bug count, download the form from the USDA website. On it, the agency asks you to note the color and structural material—brick, vinyl, wood—of your home as well as characteristics of the surrounding landscape—wooded, urban, agricultural. Finding 10 or less stink bugs a day is considered “a few” while 100 or more is “lots.” The USDA asks you to note how many you see a day as well as when and where. Let the counting begin.